Folkie Lisa Hannigan has made two solo records of sparse musings and has previously worked on improving the works of Damien Rice. Her new one, At Swim, has both the lightness and dramatics that characterise her work, and Aaron Dessner respects her sound by producing the record with a thinking space homeliness.
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Lisa Hannigan has released a couple of solo albums and made a couple of Damien Rice records a lot better, so by the time of writing about ‘At Swim’, she should be well and truly established. I’m not 100% if people jumped on ‘See-Saw’, but if not, this record should do them fine. Unlike some pop folkies' loud, climatically screamed songs, hers find subtler drama within horizontal moves: in cellos that slice into songs, twang that affects the recordings like dust and basslines that carve themselves into songs like hearts on trees.
This is a gorgeous record with a lot going on: a lot is sometimes a problem, but listening to “Prayer for the Dying”, you can see how well each element of Hannigan’s sound is being articulated -- there’s piano sprinklings, a bed of twang and a lovely bit of soft percussion, each its own particular source of comfort. “Snow” could be nothing but Hannigan and a guitar, but again lays the chords on heavy and the strings on wiry, accentuating the drama and taking the record out of the studio and into a wide, open space. “Undertow” implements programmed beats and a glitching vocal sample… alongside banjos, for a piano-driven melodrama. It’s busy, but in segments: it chooses its moments rather than overwhelming with them.
There’s snatches of a dreamier, altogether more ambient sound (or maybe we just love saying that word) on “Ora”, which opens with a swirling and diluted piano melody and envelops Hannigan’s voice with a watery collation of instruments. There’s also supreme traditionalism in the a capella of “Anahorish”. Is there a lot happening for a record on which I thought nothing much would happen? Yes. Startlingly dynamic, this music, and strangely unpredictable.
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