Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley
We wind up hating two things more than anything else. This we find out as we keep accumulating years and scar tissue. We determine that the thing we hate the most is when other people let us down, when they've gone missing, when they've forgotten. The second thing we hate - drawing in at a close second - is when we let ourselves or others down. It could just be a dead heat, the two being so intertwined and fraternal. Irish singer Lisa Hannigan has made it her life's work to envelope herself in all of the various ways that these feelings come to be our burrs, the ways that they find to infect us and rot at our spirits as we sit here, even in a pool of sunlight, feeling some kind of cold abandonment gripping us. She makes sweater weather music for those who tend to feel their chills at any given time during a year. The cold isn't relegated just to the winter months, but whenever a house or apartment feels too empty, too bare and under-used. Her songs are those whistling out of the register, the sounds of the iron and metal creaking with the life of contracting elements, with the tempers of the heat spilling forth an invisible comfort. Hannigan lets us really feel the remorse that comes from a dinner eaten alone, when it's supposed to be different. She lets us feel the hollow unlocking sound of a door, the vacant and heartless swing of a door to a place where you're only going to find your things, your belongings, but no one waiting for you with a gleam or a welcome embrace.
She moves us to feel that "cut from the kill" and the "sulk of a river." We know them when we feel them, and until then, we're just trying to be present, to give of ourselves so that the rivers and our loves never sulk, that our kills never become red. On her latest album, "Passengers," she seems expounds on these subjects even furthering, pulling together even more from her traveling and being away, realizing that it doesn't always make for the happiest of returns. There are always people missing when you get back and it hurts intensely. It guts us, makes us double-over when no one else is watching. She has a way of making the bottoming out feel less like wreckage and more like the beginning of a revival, settling over us like a gentle mist. She tells us that "words boil away like steam," as do the mouths that utter them. The greatest harm seems to come when there was a belief that what was had was going to be more lasting than it's turned out to be. It's that surprise of evacuation, the retraction of love or the obliteration of it - though the process of the loss is nearly imperceptible, gradual as if to be merciful. All that it creates is a baffled feeling and a hole. Her song, "Knots," a beauty that rises and falls with a foggy touch, is a fine example of what was and what is no more. She sings, "I walk away asleep/And chalk an outline round the scene/This shadow play of whiskey talk/A heavy denier dream/Oh let it be/I was lost in him and me," and we hear neither peace nor a disturbance. It is simply the way it is and that will be dealt with the hard way. With "Paper House," we sense the bodies we're dealing with here and how coping might be, with Hannigan offering, "We lended our heavy hearts/Motors with broken parts/We had a deck of cards it was a start/We'd sit out in the sun/And wait for our skin to turn/You would ask for truth/And I would look for something to burn." Her characters are dotted with burn marks that cannot be corrected. She seems to be the same way.