Lucky for this brooding, gentle Dublin group, singer/guitarist David Long has one of those spot-on whines that manages to add the sense of emotional fragility — heft even — his clichéd words don’t necessarily deserve. The tunes themselves are a different, and often glorious, story. Produced by Adrian Borland (of the late, great Sound), Under the Water (released in the US as Into Paradise, with a few tracks replaced) is slow-moving, simple, guitar-driven post-punk with faint echoes of Echo and the Bunnymen (a connection made explicit on “Red Light”). Pretty — not to mention pretty depressing — melodies (“The Pleasure Is Over,” “Going Home”) more than compensate for Long’s earnestly dreary and angsty lyrics, which occasionally sink into dreaded fire-and-desire couplets. But the worst offense is the fact that drummer Ronan Clarke’s name is misspelled on the US edition’s booklet. Tough break.
The soaring, anthemic “Rain Comes Down” opens the much-improved, negligibly brighter Churchtown, which exhibits all of the debut’s strengths and few of its weaknesses. While much of the material is as downbeat as any gaggle of goths, the elegant, ringing guitars make even the most funereal tracks (especially “I’m Still Waiting”) sound absolutely lovely. Cure and Echo fans should pounce.
The eight-song, 33-minute Down All the Days is by far Into Paradise’s best and most consistent effort. The tighter format is a big plus, letting the quartet avoid the filler that dotted its first two releases. “Sleep,” the invitingly atmospheric centerpiece, continues the band’s tradition of hooking plaintively beautiful tunes to the direst of lyrics — in this case, Long’s self-doubt over a hopeless affair. The seven-track For No One covers no new ground, but the samey song titles (“Letting Go,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Move Over,” “Move Up, Move Out”) indicate that Long could use a good thesaurus. The disc’s other distinction is the churning “All of These” about — what else? — a spent love affair, and the most rocking tune the group has ever attempted.