‘For Those I Love’ Sets Sad Stories to Electronic Beats

David Balfe feels guilty. The Irish musician’s debut album “For Those I Love,” which he recorded under the same name, has had the kind of success most artists only dream of: It has won widespread critical praise and was only beaten to the number one spot in the Irish album charts by Justin Bieber.

But the record wasn’t made for public release, and Balfe said he feels uncomfortable receiving recognition for an album about his working-class Dublin childhood and a friend’s recent death.

“I seem to have benefited from the release of these difficult and deeply personal stories,” Balfe, 29, said in a recent video interview. “It’s a little bit out of my control now.”

He described the album — which depicts gang violence, poverty and substance addiction — as “storytelling set against a backdrop of electronica.” Its lyrics mix reminiscences of all-night parties with Balfe’s close circle of friends with indictments of wealth inequality in Ireland — a country where both house prices and homelessness rates have surged in recent years.

But in February 2018, Paul Curran died by suicide and Balfe, grief-stricken, put “For Those I Love” on pause. The next few months were “a thundering whirlwind of chaos,” he said, that felt like “a day and a decade in one.”

“In the shadow of grief, all of us were very different people,” he said. “It’s very easy to believe that you might never be creative again.”

Balfe’s return to writing music was the “first step in the recovery” after Curran’s death, he added. Some of the material, like the opening track “I Have A Love,” was rewritten completely, changing from an ode to his group of friends to a eulogy to Curran; nostalgic new songs, such as “You Stayed,” were added.

“It was very much a mode of self expression and survival at the time,” Balfe said.

When “For Those I Love” was finished, in May 2019, Balfe put it on the independent music platform Bandcamp, to share with family and friends. A few Irish music blogs found it, too, and the record received some favorable reviews. But Balfe’s fortunes really changed when “For Those I Love” came to the attention of Ash Houghton, an A & R manager at September Recordings, which also represents Adele and London Grammar.

“The album speaks for itself,” Houghton said in an email. “My only thought at the time was that it would be a tragedy if more people weren’t able to hear it.”

Houghton offered a release on the label, yet Balfe initially was hesitant to share such personal work with a wider audience, he said. But friends who had also known Curran suggested the album could help others, he said, “and speak to them as they move through their own grief.”

In March, September Recordings rereleased “For Those I Love,” which entered the Irish album charts at number two, and Balfe’s debut live show in Dublin, scheduled for October, sold out in 10 minutes.

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