23 August 2016

Lisa Hannigan - At Swim


Recommendations are something that I sometimes need when it comes to this blog - otherwise it might have just been me reviewing every Frank Zappa album over and over again.  But life, much like music, is never the same thing over and over again.  Sometimes you need a change and I have been recommended to listen to Irish Singer/Songwriter Lisa Hannigan, especially her third album 'At Swim'.  Why I was recommended to listen to the new one and not one of her earlier releases is a mystery, maybe it is so that the new record gets some free publicity, your guess is as good as mine on that one.  But that who is this lady from the Emerald Isle, who is this confident lady on the cover of the record?  Lisa Margaret Hannigan is from Kilcloon, County Meath and is a former member of the Damien Rice backing band.  Her first two albums, 'Sea Sew'' and 'Passenger' have been nominated for award in Ireland and around the world, she plays so many instruments and her music has been features on TV shows and films.  But for all of these past achievements, all this good work.... does it mean that the music is worth the praise?  Well, there is only one way to find out......

The album starts off with the song "Fall", from the beginning you know that this folk album is very traditional and if you are wanting something louder, you will have to look elsewhere.  It is a song about always having one eye on the door, one eye on the next conquest and never being able to settle down, always running towards the door and never staying in one place.  It is a slow building song, it is one that is that hooks into your brain after a few listens and it is very subtle with the way that it does it.  Much like Laura Veirs, it is not immediate and it take time to reveal its beauty.  "Prayer For The Dying" has a blues vibe to the singing here, it is a song that is dripping in grief and loss.  It is not something to approach if you are fragile, unless you want to know that someone is feeling the same as you.  It is beautiful, the vocals are striking and you would have to have a heart of stone not to see the beauty here.  "Snow" reminds me of the theme for the Studio Ghibli film 'Arrietty', the remake of the story 'The Borrowers', it shares a similar feeling as this story about love in the final season of the Western Calendar.  It has a natural feeling to the music, a gentle soul and it really does melt your heart in places.  "Lo" is a song about those dark moments in the night when the soul is laid bare and there are no distractions to be found, when the lies that have been spoken and shown come to the surface.  A story about untruths should not by rights sound so beautiful, but this one manages to do so with great ease.  There is a Celtic sound at the heart of this one that gives a timeless feeling to the music, showcasing the talent of the lady, it is a beautiful and heart-breaking number.

"Undertow" is the fifth song on offer here, it is a song of surrender, giving one’s self to another and submitting to their will without any fight or struggle.  It is a love song where the desire to give everything about you, every single piece of your being and soul freely to your loved one is the overwhelming theme of this song.  It is a good number, not as spectacular as other songs on the record; it is missing something for me on that level and I am not sure if it is the music itself or the fact that the vocals are not as passionate here.  Either way, it is not as good as the preceding songs.  "Ora" follows on in a dream like manner, drifting around the listener like a song from a Siren in the mist and not seeming to be complete to be honest.  It is feels as if it had more legs and ends just a shade too soon if I am honest.  Maybe I have listened to too much Sigur Rós over the years, but it is just a shade too short for my tastes.  "We the Drowned" is the next number, a song about the self-destructive nature of people and not knowing when everything is being consumed and disaster is heading our way.   It is a dark number, one where the instruments sound haunted and the layered vocals are calling, trying to avert the glorious car crash that is sure to come on this path of destruction.  For such a broken number, it is so well founded that it makes everything make sense. 

"Anaorish" is a poem by Seamus Heane, which is given an a cappella treatment by Lisa Hannigan; to be honest it is a poem that would be hard to do wrong in this format, with a delicate Irish tilt to the vocals and a beautiful mixing of vocal ranges.  But it is something that has been done so many times and will be done so many times in the future, that you know it was done as a tribute to the inspiration to the album and the help that was gained through the inner struggle of writer's block and home sickness whilst trying to find inspiration - beautiful, but not essential.  "Tender" is a song with deeper, darker meanings, that discusses (albeit briefly) communication, lust, yearning and desire.  The words might be full of double meaning, representation of events and all that sort of thing, but the music is a beautifully dark accomplice to the song that feels like it has been mined from the subconscious of Sparklehorse and had all fuzzy guitars removed that leaves a dark and hypnotic love song.  The penultimate song of the album is "Funeral Suit" which outlines a meeting between a significate other and the singer as he is wearing a suit and the way an afternoon/evening moves along.  It has hints that this was a significate meeting, one that had ramifications for the future and lines that started in the past.  It has a weight behind it, the piano driven piece is beautiful and then it is over when it was sounding like it could have become an epic track that just misses out on the prize.  Ending the album is "Barton", a song about the other end of a relationship when everything is broken and nothing remains.  It feels like something went wrong in a way that caused all bridges to be burnt whilst everyone was still on them.  It mixes in some electronica to the background of this song, when the album has been largely traditional and it makes me wonder what it would have been like if more of the tracks had have contained this sort of influence, maybe like an early Beth Orton perhaps?  Either way, it is a heart-breaking end to this record.

I think I appreciate this album more than love it, I find the beauty within whilst keeping a cool distance and it is a good record than is not quite great for me and there are a few reasons for that.  At times I can imagine the music melting like snow on a wet day if you were not in the mood for it, but it is also a future companion when the weather closes in and the heart needs time to heal.  Also, at its very heard, the album is a reflective piece, one that will win over people with a performance that is brimming with all the confidence displayed by the lady on the cover; yet I still feel slightly unsure about it.  I do not think it is a genre changing album or one that will cross-over either, but it is one that will be greatly appreciated by folk fans all over the world and it is a good work overall - file under Good, but not for me. 

7 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out.

You can purchase At Swim on Amazon here

You can visit the Lisa Hannigan website here

You can follow the activity of Lisa Hannigan on Facebook here

You can stream At Swim on Deezer here (not all tracks are available in all countries)

You can stream At Swim on Spotify here

You can stream At Swim on Tidal here

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