Photo: Autumn de Wilde /Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

Sweet Guitars and Shimmering Textures Define Irish Folk Artist Fionn Regan’s ‘Cala’

Cala is a delicate record, one saved by Fionn Regan's songwriting and heartfelt delivery.

Fionn Regan
9 August 2019

As the gentle guitar arpeggios and swirling electronics intermingle on opening track “Collar of Fur”, it becomes evident that Fionn Regan prizes colors and delicate textures. His voice is gentle, yet it carries a determination, one that delivers narratives rich in imagery and emotive gestures. It sounds like an indie-pop track, sure, but it’s not unbearably light or fragile. It stretches and extends its soundscape without becoming an aimless, meandering mess. Much like the album it opens, Cala, it’s a robust and durable slice of acoustic landscape from a confident singer/songwriter.

Regan wrote each track and performed all the instruments on Cala, his latest release. Recorded at his home on the coastal outskirts of Dublin, the album carries a sense of the fantastic. Images of stars and the ocean fuse with intricate fingerpicked melodies, conjuring ethereal songs that still carry a sense of weight and depth. The songs on Cala are sweet but never saccharine, stylish and fawning but yet composed with a sense of substance. All of this is a testament to Regan’s threefold gift as a songwriter, performer, and producer.

On the surface, the stereo panned vocals of “Head Swim” conjure memories of the Shins and Damien Rice. Nonetheless, its sense of bounce and jangling acoustic guitars convey something much more confident and immediate. Regan’s last album, The Meeting of the Waters, was lauded for its “feathery acoustic sweetness”, a trait still very much apparent here, albeit with a sense of maturity. Songwriters with paper-thin sonic spectrums are all too abundant today, and a record as nuanced as Cala is all immensely welcome.

The writing on songs like “The Ocean Wave” and “Riverside Heights” is complimented with their production, spacious affairs with etherial whispers and electronic glitches best enjoyed through headphones. Considering how the album was recorded off the coast of Ireland, there clearly must have been something in the air. Cala is at turns whimsical and rocksteady, the abundance of layered textures seemingly influenced by the vastness of ocean and lushness of the surrounding countryside.

Part of Cala‘s success is the way Regan achieves a cinematic soundscape while retaining a personal touch on each track. “Volca” is notable for its panning of doubled vocals, arpeggiated guitars, and reverb-laced piano, layered tracks that create a sense of grandeur. “Glaciers” opens with a programmed beat before giving way to cold and isolated Regan’s vocals, a combination that sounds stark and bleak. Lesser songwriters would fall into the trap of electronic manipulations turning tunes into soulless ventures. Here, however, the tenderness of Regan’s voice keeps these tracks grounded with a sense of humanity and hope.

Cala was named after the Spanish word for creek, and its calming sense of flow becomes evident throughout the record’s ten tracks. Its strength–subtle production values, rich digital elements meshing alongside tender guitars–also becomes a weakness. Regan is an excellent songwriter; a fact made evident throughout Cala as well as his fantastic past releases. The production work on this record has a distinct purpose, and every instrument and electronic element is used to maximum effect without sounding overbearing. Yet, there’s a lightness to the album that, while immensely attractive to some listeners, could grow stale over time for others.

That isn’t to fault Cala or Regan for overusing a single aesthetic. His artistic voice is evident throughout the record, one that finds endless material in subtle turns of phrase or elegantly plucked guitars. Cala is a fantastic new record for audiences looking for equal levels of soul and style.

RATING 7 / 10
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