Lisa Hannigan’s solo career has been one of delayed praise from me. She’s done nothing but provide me with lasting sounds, and yet it took me awhile to recognize it. This time I was ready, but let’s jump back to the beginning…
She released her solo debut in 2008; the simplistic, folk driven, Sea Sew. Up until then I’d always considered her to be a counterpart of Damien Rice, matching his earnest and broken sound with her angelic and haunted vocals. She molded to his music perfectly and for some reason I assumed that’s where she would stay, as she had spent the better part of 6 years working with him; so when I saw she had released a solo album I was intrigued, but had my hands full with 2008 releases (1). Basically I didn’t give the full record a chance until a few years later, and I was angry at myself for depriving my ears of it for so long. Oddly enough that didn’t stop me from doing the exact same thing with her second record, 2011's Passengers.
Passengers came out three years after Sea Sew. And despite recognizing her gift as a solo artist, not to mention her sound being one that’s right up my alley, I was smitten with that years releases and cast it aside. 2011 gave me everything: debuts from Kimbra, Ben Howard, and Childish Gambino, big releases from Radiohead, Jay Z // Kanye West, and Florence + The Machine, and triumphant returns from Alison Krauss and Union Station and The Strokes (the list goes on and on). With that it was easy to forget about Lisa’s second effort; but make no mistake, Passengers was/ is a gem. Like before, my experience was sparse. It wasn’t until a few years later that it hit me, “this is a REALLY good album.” She built on her debut in every way. Forming a much fuller sound by incorporating new influences into her traditional folk sound. From the consuming, rugged sound of "Knots" to the tribal sounds of the catchy and addictive "What'll I Do," the entire record is smooth and accomplished. I couldn’t wait to hear what was next, little did I know it would be quite awhile before "next" showed up.
She took a page out of Damien Rice’s playbook and waited 5 years before releasing her third LP, At Swim. Though we live in a society that loves instant gratification, I kind of like the semi long delay artists sometimes take. A five year wait, while annoying, can be dealt with (as long as you don't constantly tease your fans about the release FRANK OCEAN). Anything past that and it becomes a long enough absence that the hype basically becomes “your album better be the greatest thing I’ve ever heard or it’s a failure,” in other words, good luck to you Andre 3000. The album is more than a slight departure from her first two records. It’s much more somber, heavier...darker. The darkness feels more like an overcast day though, very atmospheric and mysterious, with a slow burn presentation; think Agnes Obel with a folk influenced approach.
Her voice shines brighter than it has in the past, allowing her range and ethereal tone to flourish as her layers and harmonies swallow you whole. It’s no surprise that At Swim takes a much more melancholy approach then it’s predecessors with The National’s chief song constructor and guitarist Aaron Dessner producing. He allows her to take her sound back in time, letting herexplore the caves within the world that has long since passed (listen to her bring famed Irish poet Seamus Heaney's "Anahorish" to life with a beautiful a cappella rendition). The album as a whole plays like a dream. I felt entranced during my first listen through, from the opener, "Fall" to the closer, “Barton.” My favorite two tracks are "Undertow," and "Tender," which features an ominous accordion that, when met with the strings and Hannigan's airy falsetto, plays like perfection.
- 2008 was too heavy to harness just like my penchant for impertinent rambling but here is a small sample of why I didn't have time for our sweet Lisa's debut record. Muse’s H.A.A.R.P. aka my favorite live album ever, new Portishead, two releases from Nine Inch Nails, Lil Wayne capping off his three years of dominance, Erykah Badu's New Amerykah Part One, Gnarls Barkley's second record, Beyonce true transition to global goddess, etc.! We had debuts from Adele, Punch Brothers, and The Last Shadow Puppets (and Ra Ra Riot! And Sanitgold! AND Fleet Foxes! AND VAMPIRE WEEKEND!) and probably, most importantly, Death Cab For Cutie’s Narrow Stairs album aka “The Ice Is Getting Thinner” aka Dan and Serena’s dance/ “final goodbye” at Bart and Lily’s wedding aka heartbreaking AMIRIGHT (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vP0o2V_X1Qo) DO I SMELL OSCAR?? They don’t give Oscars for tv. DO I SMELL A GOLDEN GLOBE?! Hear, hear! GG 4 GG!! Okay. Taking a deep breath. Calming down. Have a nice afternoon.