A dip in the raw
LISA HANNIGAN At Swim Hoop Recordings
A few years ago, your reviewer was in a room with a group of people who sleep, eat, breathe and live music. When the topic of Lisa Hannigan came about, one person vented – most eloquently – to the point of self-combustion.
Up to that point, who knew that someone loathed Hannigan’s music so much that it would cause them palpitations? Wasn’t she the go-to artist for intelligent and slightly abstract songs that flirted with whimsy without falling into full-blown idiosyncrasy? Not for everyone, it seems.
It is now widely known that sometime after her 2011 album, Passenger (the follow-up to her 2008 debut, Sea
Sew), Hannigan experienced writer’s block and mild depression (or, as she diplomatically revealed in a recent interview in this paper, “feeling existentially a bit raw”). Whatever really transpired is a moot point, but listening to At Swim it is obvious how the shift in mood has dramatically altered her songwriting process.
Hannigan’s voice isn’t anywhere near as light, her lyrics (assisted in part by US songwriter Joe Henry, who produced Passenger) are grounded in a profound sense of self-realisation, and the melodies (crafted in part by collaborator/ producer Aaron Dessner) aren’t always easy to access.
As a transitional, sometimes stark collection, it stands to reason that not all of them will benefit to even the most committed listener.
Still, Hannigan’s resolve to move to somewhere else (if not forward) is to be admired. Songs such as Prayer for the Dying (Patsy Cline sipping gin slings with The Handsome Family), Anahorish (the Seamus Heaney poem imagined as an Emmylou Harris lament), and We, the Drowned (anguish in harmony with solemnity) may be crushingly bereft of joy, but Hannigan seems at peace here.
Whether the songs ultimately point to a different level of acceptance is debatable; what matters is that Lisa Hannigan seems no longer trapped by expectations. lisahannigan.ie