I went to a gig on Saturday night. It was in the Half Moon, which seems to have remembered that it is in fact a venue, and not just a room behind the Opera House, gathering dust. Headlining was the Great Balloon Race, a band who have been gaining plaudits with a slate of shows around Cork in the past six months. I hadn’t caught them before though – I had only heard one song to date, ‘Medicated Hope’, which struck me as intriguing. The support band also came highly recommended. The Maori John Wayne, however, were disappointing, one of the worst bands I’ve seen live.

Maori John Wayne. Picture: Brid O’Donovan

Thankfully, the Great Balloon Race came to the rescue. Whereas the support were a mess of ideas – let’s wear masks, let’s sound like we have only ever practised for five minutes – the headliners, who were launching their debut album Cardboard, were tight and captivating. To me, anyway – there was a lot of chatter in the room, which was as busy as the Half Moon has ever been. It’s nice to see people come out in support of local music. The Great Balloon Race remind me of another Cork band I was fond of but was, alas, shortlived: Sideproject. There are postrock elements strewn alongside jazz pieces and straight-up slabs of rock throughout Cardboard, but the five-piece never lose the hook, that essential pop element.

Great Balloon Race. Picture: Brid O’Donovan

There are hints at other bands such as Wild Beasts on the loose reins of album opener ‘Animals Burning’, but they never reach the same copycat quota as fellow Cork band Hush War Cry. There is restraint shown despite the freneticism of the aforementioned ‘Medicated Hope’, which sounds like a revelation live. There is a bit of flab on the album, as there was in the live show. ‘Fish’ is a laboured and meandering acoustic song that doesn’t really fit with the rest of the album. But it’s followed by the excellent ‘Bhutan’. It’s like the band are trying to tick as many boxes as they can: You might not like this but you’ll love what’s coming up afterwards.

The Great Balloon Race. Picture: Brid O’Donovan

I can’t wait to see the Great Balloon Race again. If you get the chance, you should follow, too. Cardboard is 10 tracks long and can be downloaded for €8 on Bandcamp.