Video: ‘I Don’t Know’

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County Meath’s Lisa Hannigan was, of course, Damien Rice’s singing partner, until he sacked her last year. But Hannigan is, I’d say, a much better singer than Rice, so a solo album from her was always going to be an intriguing prospect. I’d heard a couple of Hannigan’s songs, and they were catchy, folky numbers; and her performance on Later… with Jools Holland outshone all the others in that particular episode. So I was expecting Sea Sew to be good.

But it’s not good. It’s brilliant.

Listening to See Sew reminded me very much of the second Reindeer Section album, which grew on me by stealth until it became one of the most treasured records I own. I think there’s a very good chance that Hannigan’s album will do the same. Yet it’s hard to convey in words just what it is about Sea Sew that’s so extraordinary. Yes, this is a set of ten folky pop songs through which floats Hannigan’s delicate voice, singing her convoluted, oblique lyrics. And yet… there’s so much that that description doesn’t capture.

There’s the variety of sounds that Hannigan manages to encompass, from the bounce of ‘I Don’t Know’ to the quiet menace of ‘Keep it All’. There are the many subtleties, such as the way ‘An Ocean and a Rock’ bobs up and down on its melody like a boat, or the way that ‘Venn Diagram’ and ‘Teeth’ soar upwards so unexpectedly and magnificently.

(I must also mention the sleeve and lyric sheet, which were hand-sewn by Hannigan and her mother. Now that’s dedication to your art, a dedication that resounds throughout the music, too.)

Let me put it this way: I cannot listen to Sea Sew without ending up with a smile on my face and an uplifting feeling inside. I wish all music would evoke that strength of feeling, and I’m enormously pleased that I’ve found another album which does.

Video: ‘An Ocean and a Rock’ (live)

Read my other Mercury Prize 2009 posts here.