Album Review: Lisa Hannigan – At Swim

Lisa Hannigan is an Irish singer/songwriter, composer and voice actress, she started her career working with fellow Irish musician Damien Rice, before moving on to have her own solo career from 2007 onwards. I’m ashamed to say that prior to her voice role as Blue Diamond in Steven Universe, I hadn’t heard of Hannigan but I fell in love with her voice, which was both melodic and able to portray a deep volume of sadness. So I’ve now been working my way through some of her music and thought I would review her album ‘At Swim’ which was released on the 19th August 2016.

‘Fall’ opens with a slow paced guitar, gently lilting forwards, blending with Hannigan’s soft and melancholic, melodic voice to create something that captures you from the first moment and carries you to the end, entranced from the first moment. I’ll admit to knowing I was going to like Hannigan’s music before sitting down to review this album, but this track is so soft and yet so powerful and it’s an amazing start to the album. 

‘Prayer for the Dying’ is a little bigger, piano chords resonating, and supporting Hannigan’s voice which equally proves itself capable of hitting even deeper depths. I tend to relate songs to my own mood, and I like daydreaming. I love sad songs and soft songs because they are conducive to all of that kind of stuff, and this is perfect fuel for just connecting with you and stirring something inside you. 

‘Snow’ kicks off with a light guitar, a little faster paced and more vibrant than the first track, but still delicate like a soft spring rain. I’ve never used an analogy like that when writing reviews before but I felt it was apt. Hannigan is a tremendous vocalist, her voice is rich and soothing and deep, you could get lost in one of these songs. I think of all the tracks on this album, this one is my personal favourite, although it is very close. 

‘Lo’ is a little faster paced again, a light, energetic guitar which balances well with the slower tempo of the vocals, but they pick up as percussion is blended into the track making something that’s beautiful and fluid, full of motion and life. It’s hard to describe what makes me personally like certain tracks, after all music is very subjective but then again getting to listen to artists like this makes my job worthwhile. 

‘Undertow’ opens with piano, which blends into a synthy tone that builds, creating a nice rhythmic beat, and I am increasingly impressed by Hannigan’s voice which is just perfect. Although I expressed my appreciation for ‘Snow’ earlier, I think that this song has the best balance between vocals and melody so far. 

‘Ora’ has a nice building, ambient tone behind it, one that reminds me of winter, and again with the weird analogies. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. Anyway, they perfectly support Hannigan’s vocals which seem deeper and sweeter in this track. 

‘We, the Drowned’ has a slow build, one that just works its way into your heart and stays there, it’s very close topping the list of my personal favourite tracks on the album. I do think it’s perhaps the most memorable track on here, something about the vocals in particular are just truly remarkable. 

‘Anahorish’ really hammers home that I cannot overstate how beautiful Hannigan’s voice is, she brings a sensational, folky quality to her music that is just breathtaking. It was also super cool to hear her bring to life the poem of the same name by Irish poet and playwright, Seamus Heaney. 

‘Tender’ kicks this up a gear after the slower nature of the previous track, it uses the beat and rhythm of the percussive melody to give the track a little more energy. That being said, and I touched on it in my introductory paragraph, Hannigan has a gift for portraying sadness and melancholy with sincerity and without it being trite. I also recall reading that a lot of the songs on this album were inspired by feelings of loss and being homesick, and this all comes across with startling clarity. 

‘Funeral Suit’ really fills up a space, this was the only one I didn’t listen to with my earphones in while hiding in my corner desk to get work done. I had it one while taking care of mundanities around the house, and I tend to listen to each song I review a good few times before reviewing, but this one more so than any other really caught me. It’s not that it’s better or worse than the others, and it might not even have been because I listened to it a different way but it just really reached me. 

‘Barton’ finishes off the album, with building guitars that form a palpable, almost vibrating backdrop to Hannigan’s sweet voice. I really enjoyed this as a conclusion to what has been a really powerful album and musical experience because it captured the feel of the full album but also didn’t really sound too much like any of the other songs. 

So that’s what I thought of Lisa Hannigan’s album ‘At Swim’ and if you want to check that out for yourself then head on over to Spotify. While you’re at it, make sure and support the artist by checking out their website, and by following her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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