Dublin songwriter Lisa Hannigan first came bustling onto indie folk enthusiasts’ radars with the release of Sea Sew in 2009. Immediately lauded for personable lyricism and a thoughtful, delicate, and evocative delivery mostly centered between her lilting vocals and acoustic guitar, the folk artist saw further acclaim a couple of years later with Passenger. Five good years later, she’s back at it again with her third full-length studio record, At Swim, and this time around, she has seen a half-decade’s worth of positive artistic and personal meandering and development to create something that feels altogether familiar, yet different, for long-time listeners and newcomers alike.
At Swim is a low-key, dark piece of work on the overall, warmly hypnotic and welcoming in its well-layered, textured encampment of its own design in a sense not too dissimilar from the quietly chaotic, deeply personal worlds that Bon Iver and Gregory Alan Isakov have been able to develop in their music. With all of this said, however, it’s in a sense that relates most to the idea of Hannigan herself coming full-circle with her career in the opening moments of the album, wherein she accompanies herself with a simplistic, ominous strumming of her guitar on “Fall”. Her sweet yet foreboding vocals carry the song as it builds in its amount of layers, eventually culminating into a piece complete with moments of hushed, sweeping electric guitar, as well as moving strings on the tracks lower end.
Though the same general idea of a looming sadness and a very nearly eerie sense of relation to the listener persists throughout as At Swim‘s most complete overall theme, something can be said about Hannigan’s intrinsic ability to create an album that feels as varied as it does one overarching piece of concept art. “Prayer for the Dying” maintains a slowed-down doo-wop chord progression that feels like it would feel as much at place during a particularly contemplative moment of a school dance as it would as the soundtrack to a scintillating scene on an A-grade silver screen production. Furthermore, it would be a taxing development for any individual to not actually picture a snowy landscape in their mind’s eye on the aptly-named “Snow”, and follow-up track “Lo” works its way into the album as an earworm with an arrangement that is as haunting as it is high in tempo compared to the rest of the tracks that piece the record together.
The thought that Hannigan has produced an altogether seamless, yet rather different, album when perceived track-by-track only persists further as At Swim progresses forward. Everything tends to reach its tipping point with the incredible sorrow felt with “We, the Drowned”, as well as the mildly electronic, sweeping tendencies of closing track “Barton”, in which Hannigan allows her crystalline vocals to truly soar. Hannigan’s entire body of work is something to admire, and At Swim is yet another sturdy installment in her increasingly impressive catalog. As far as well-known modern folk artists go, Hannigan’s place on the scene is thoroughly deserved.
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