In 2019, David Balfe – under the alias For Those I Love – released his self-titled debut album. We didn’t hear about it at the time. Appearing on Bandcamp with little announcement, only 25 physical copies were cut and passed among Balfe’s friends and family in his home of Coolock, North Dublin. It came one year on from the tragic death of his best friend Paul Curran, a talented poet who took his own life in 2018. Together Balfe, Curran and two other mates spent most of their days making music under the name Burnt Out, casting spoken-word poetry over expansive electronic beats and combining this with gritty black-and-white music videos. Pouring everything they had into the project, together they built a world for themselves and expressed the world outside of theirs as they saw it. Having already begun writing the album whilst Curran was still alive, For Those I Love was Balfe’s celebration of that time spent between 4 best friends; a way of preserving the immortality of the lives they’ve lived even after one was lost.
Fast forward just over a year and the very same album, re-released today via September Recordings, now finds itself amongst a much larger audience. Over the past 9 months, For Those I Love has released three singles from the album, performed on Later with Jools Holland and received rave reviews from every music magazine and critic going. There is little doubt that the record we have before us now is a masterpiece.
Described by Balfe as “music based in storytelling rooted in a working class background”, the 9 tracks are a continuation of the project started by Burnt Out. Balfe’s cutting poetry, delivered in his impenetrable Dublin vernacular, demands our attention. Alongside speeches, carefully selected samples and voice recordings akin to the work of Jamie XX and Fred again.., we are thrown in to the sea of experiences and charged emotions lived out by Balfe and his friends growing up. In ‘Top Scheme’, Balfe voices his anger towards the social alienation of the working class: “I don’t want this world / Where our troubles and complaints are justified / It’s just numbers and stats til it’s your life”. Both the opening and final songs, ‘I Have A Love’, and ‘Leave Me Not Love’ soar between excruciating feeling of loss and the celebration of time treasured between friends. A cinematic representation would resemble something like The Wizard of Oz cyclone inside Ron Burgundy’s glass cage of emotion. And even that doesn’t do it justice.
Yet where the lyrical content is dense and consistently intense (trying my hand), the poetic montages sweep across a canvas of expansive, rave-like beats, inducing that same feeling of warm euphoria that overcomes you at peak-time on the dancefloor. Nowhere is this more poignant than on the seventh track, ‘Birthday / The Pain’. Balfe opens with a brutal memory of seeing a body “stabbed to death and left on the bricks” aged six, and from there the song journeys through painful memories over a colourful and jubilant sonic palette. As the track builds to its moments of pure elation, the lyrics move with it and Balfe arrives at what counts:
“Cause the world is a cruel cruel place without the love
So we’ll spend the rest of our life being brave
And hope that things will change
And age will still mark the time in the same way
But I’ll hold on a little tighter
To the love of my mates
Forever and a day.”
A commemoration of one’s best friend could have resulted in a eulogy; an album playing out as a one-dimensional tribute. But instead, Balfe’s staggering debut is a rich and immersive listening experience that deepens the connection between poetry and music. And although no one can tell you how and when to listen to certain records this should not be the one relegated to background music or unconscious listening. Invest as much in it as you would any other sensory experience you want to draw meaning from. For as easily as it could have been a eulogy, it also could have been nothing at all, kept treasured between Balfe and those close to him. Instead, through the music that unified them he invites us in to his world to feel the inter-connectedness and love that him and his four friends shared. Balfe admitted in his harrowing interview with Tommy Tiernan that he lives with a tremendous sense of guilt in releasing For Those I Love, but this album will transcend beyond the boundaries of Coolock. It will speak to those who have experienced grief, and remind anyone who might need it that there is light in the dark.