Lisa Hannigan Floats Off To Our Dreams With “At Swim”


Lisa Hannigan, Live at the Festival of World Cultures. Photo: Dara Munnis. Date: 24/08/2008 Location: Dun Laoighaire, Ireland.
Lisa Hannigan, Live at the Festival of World Cultures. Photo: Dara Munnis.

People who know me quickly realize that I am a bit obsessed with most things Irish.  A lot obsessed actually. Whether it be the words of Roddy Doyle, a film by Lance Daly, Ireland is a place close to my heart (yet far from my wallet). Music is no exception; growing up, many of the tunes I listened to were of Irish or Gaelic origin. The Chieftans being a prime example. Later on there was James Vincent McMorrow, Damien Dempsey, and of course Shane MacGowan and The Pogues. Recently, however, I have been turned onto the princess of Irish dream Ballads – Lisa Hannigan.

When I was younger, I definitely had this idea that Irish music was comprised of fiddle-heavy rah-rah-get-up-and-dance tunes. While that may be true of the “traditional” songs, there is so much more that comes from the land of Eire. And perhaps leading that charge is Lisa Hannigan. Her new album  At Swim is her first in five years. It is simultaneously her most complex and simplistic album to date.

There is not necessarily a ton of variety on At Swim, but that actually enhances its quality and sound. The slow-tempo piano combined with Hannigan’s ethereal melodies causes the entire body to enter a wistful dream; a long lover’s walk on a beach in South America. It is a pleasant numbing of the mind away from the emotions and realities of daily existence.

In the day and age of autotune, complex harmonies, and multi-layered song structures, Hannigan’s stripped-down simple sweet nothings are a breath of a fresh air, in an industry constantly saturating itself with re-invention.  At Swim is by no means old-school but it not necessarily completely modern either. Nor is it middle of the road. Far from it. Instead At Swim is a blissful mediation on the intricacies and inner complexities of being in love – and to a certain extent just living – in the 21st century. Unlike her contemporary Dempsey, whose lyrics invoke the political hardships of the working class, Hannigan prefers to take a much more positive outlook and the slowness of her chords let the listener ample time for reflection, soul-searching and day dreaming.

The most interesting track for me is Undertow. It has the most layers and almost slight electro-pop feel to it, complete with a multi-faceted instrumentation. The song’s experimental feel is a wonderful complimentary outlier to an overall beautiful contemplation on the human soul. Let’s all run away to dreamland.

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