A dip in the raw

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC REVIEWS - TONY CLAY­TON-LEA

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

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