In this month’s sidebar, we announce our support for Florence & The Machine’s candidacy for Mercury Music Prize Winner, 2009. It’s an album which rewards every subsequent listen, and would thoroughly deserve the prize (though I could do without the video for ‘Drumming Song‘, to be honest). I wanted to give a tip of the hat, though, to Lisa Hannigan’s Sea Sew. Winsome and folky, it has no chance at all of winning even though it deserves its (some would say tokenistic) presence on the shortlist. Yes, you can hear the echoes of Damien Rice in irts soars and swoops, but it is a very much sprightlier – and quirkier – affair than either 0 or 9.
This co-existence of the serious and the silly persists throughout the album’s ten songs. So a song called ‘Venn Diagram’ sits next to one called ‘Splishy Splashy’, and ‘Pistachio’ likens depression to the wan taste of a pre-shelled nut. This cutesiness might have got tiring quite quickly were it not for the warmth that suffuses the record: unlike, for instance, Regina Spektor in her direr moments, Hannigan never gives in to the temptation to kook it up. She keeps her music quietly characterful – engaging arrangements played using by and large acoustic instrumentation, and Hannigan’s curling vocal plays it otherwisde straight. In short, she cares about these cheeky songs, and their wryness is more about the telling, incongruous detail than the conscious kink.
There’s a lovely cover of Bert Jansch’s ‘Courting Blues’, which reminds me of the menacing sound of Viarosa; but there’s also the jaunty Noah & The Whale pop of ‘I Don’t Know’ (‘If you eat what you’ve been given, or push it ’round your plate, I’d like to cook for you’). Opener ‘Ocean and a Rock’ starts with a loping bass line which bubbles under a chilly story about missing someone close to you; the album’s closing song, ‘Lille’, seems similarly to be a lament for the lost – and features a trilling little xylophone riff. Touches like this are what give the LP that compensatory warmth, making it something more rewarding than a maudlin old moan.
Sea Sew was recorded in just 13 days – and its generally affectionate atmosphere shows it. It won’t win the Prize, but it should probably get the silver medal.