Over the course of her three studio albums, Lisa Hannigan has deepened her folk sound. Her debut, Sea Sew (2008), was primarily a stripped-back folk-pop record, and in her follow-up Passenger (2011) she picked up these folk-pop threads and made her songs much richer with the help of a fuller backing band. Five years later, At Swim (produced by the National's Aaron Dessner), finds Hannigan once again expanding her folk sound, one that's sullen, string- and piano-heavy and sprawls out just enough to include light touches of electronic elements.
At Swim is an incredibly soft record. Contrasting our harsh world, all of the album's instruments are played gently and with care, while Hannigan's hushed and raspy voice is as commanding as ever as she exudes a quiet confidence. On "Anahorish," a gorgeous a cappella interpretation of Seamus Heaney's poem, we hear the full powers of Hannigan's voice, but she dazzles all the same on denser tracks like "We, the Drowned" or "Barton," which is flecked with a muted electronic beat. Her voice punctures the thick layers of instrumentation with ease.
At times, At Swim feels like it drifts aimlessly. The meandering lead single "Prayer for the Dying" doesn't end fast enough, while the twirling "Tender" lacks any sort of a punch at all. Nevertheless, At Swim is like a dream you won't want to wake up from. (ATO Records)