Audio Mixer: Jonathan Low.
Recording information: Future-Past Studios (09/28/2015-10/06/2015).
Photographer: Rich Gilligan.
The third studio long-player from the Irish singer/songwriter, the aptly named At Swim is a beguiling collection of aqueous and often elegiac indie folk ballads that seep syrup-slow into your bones, inducing both goosebumps and a teeth-chattering chill. Despite being written after a severe bout of wanderlust and writer's block that saw Hannigan globe-trotting for inspiration, the ten-track set is her most galvanized offering to date; a languid river of song that transcends its myriad watery metaphors via an adjacent undercurrent of morbidity and existential angst that suggests a real sea change. Produced with terrific restraint by the National's Aaron Dessner, At Swim is awash in plucky banjo, ethereal strings, offbeat percussion, and isolated, heavenly piano motifs that drop down into the drink like a kingfisher collecting its quarry. As per usual, it's Hannigan's otherworldly voice that provides the anchor, effortlessly shifting from smoky lows to crystalline highs like a precision sports car on a twisty mountain test drive. Standouts like the torchy "Prayer for the Dying," which pairs vintage Patsy Cline production with a brooding melody that comes off like a mash-up of "What a Wonderful World" and Radiohead's "Creep," the bucolic "Ora," and the softly propulsive, Kate Bush-esque "Undertow," utilize Hannigan's gifts for both range and economical poetry -- never one to bloviate, she has the Irish knack for distilling the vastness of misery, heartache, and shame into tidy couplets such as "Oh we the wrong, we the sewed up and long gone, were we fallen all along." However, that emerald touch can also transmute despair into comfort, which is ultimately what makes At Swim such a compelling listen. This is an album to listen to in front of a crackling fire, with a very strong drink, at the end of a very arduous day. ~ James Christopher Monger