There’s a rumour that Fionn Regan was thinking of giving up music for visual art. And five years on from his previous release, things are undoubtedly different this time around. There’s been a relocation eastwards. Those who follow him on Instagram will have already noticed plenty of Japanese references. Here, the cover art seems to reflect such a mood. He’s also set up his own record label, Tsuneni Ai, which means ‘Always Love’ in Japanese. Indeed, the new album finishes with a 12-minute ambient track of the same name. Taking up nearly a third of the record as a whole, it puts us firmly in Jim O’Rourke territory, another Japanese exile. This track is a radical departure for an artist who previously looked towards mid-60s Dylan or early-70s Nick Drake for his influences. Yet, whether it’s a bold new move from a restlessly creative artist or a musical distraction from someone whose head perhaps isn’t in the game any more is a matter of discussion. Because even after a five-year absence, The Meetings of the Waters seems more like a stop-gap offering than a mature piece of musical reflection. The title track would be at home on any of his previous albums. A couple of other tracks also work quite well. And there are some reassuringly Reganesque chord changes on ‘Euphoria’. But it’s all a far cry from The Shadow Of An Empire or 100 Acres Of Sycamore, his two classic albums from the early part of the decade. Rather than charting a new course, Fionn Regan seems to have reached a crossroads with his new record. He has to figure out what sort of sound he wants to make, indeed he has to decide what sort of art he wants to create. Let’s hope he makes the right choice.
Happy New Year. Surely, 2017 can only be better than 2016. But who knows at the moment? What’s for sure is that music will always be a comfort. In that spirit, highly anticipated 2017 releases include confirmed albums from Elbow, Fleet Foxes, Foxygen, Grandaddy, Grizzly Bear, Horse Thief, Nadia Reid, Nikki Lane, Real Estate, Ryan Adams, The Shins, Son Volt, Strand of Oaks, and Sun Kil Moon. And then there’s always the H-LM wish list. This year, it includes Adrian Crowley, Alela Diane, Anaïs Mitchell, Bill Callahan, David Vandervelde, Feist, Field Report, Fionn Regan, First Aid Kit, Israel Nash, Jason Isbell, Jim White, Laura Veirs, Lewis & Clarke, Noah Gunderson, and Phosphorescent. Mind you, some of these artists were on my wish list this time last year. So, fingers are tightly crossed. Whatever happens, let’s start the new year with some good news. Word is in that Kramies is recording new demos. I can’t wait to hear the end result. In the meantime, here’s Kramies (feat. Jason Lytle) with ‘Clocks Were All Broken’.
This is always a really exciting time. A whole year of new releases to be anticipated. We know there’s material forthcoming from Villagers, Eleanor Friedberger, Andrew Bird, Dylan Leblanc, Shearwater, Tindersticks, Lucinda Williams, Sun Kil Moon, and Damien Jurado. There are also rumours of albums from Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket, Robert Ellis, and PJ Harvey. That’s a good start. But there’s much more to hope for. Last year, I was really lucky. Right at the top of my 2015 list was music from Elvis Perkins and Sufjan Stevens and both were kind enough to oblige. So, artists, if you are listening, here’s my wish list for 2016 – Bill Callahan, Phosphorescent, Richmond Fontaine, Anais Mitchell, John Vanderslice, Bon Iver, Kathleen Edwards, Kate Bush, Grizzly Bear and/or Department of Eagles, David Vandervelde, Neko Case, Emmy The Great, Ryan Adams, Feist, Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s, Fionn Regan, Fleet Foxes, and, of course, Kramies. Do please oblige. In the meantime, here is the great one with his classic ‘Sea Otter Cottage’.
Fionn Regan – The Bunkhouse Vol. 1: Anchor Black Tattoo
On Fionn Regan’s previous album, 100 Acres of Sycamore, many of the songs were modular. One basic block of often complex music was repeated usually twice, sometimes three times. The result was that the songs often built up in intensity, which was then released only to build up again. The effect was mesmerising, notably in ‘The Lake District’ with its ending, “Marry Me, In a Registry, Like A Foreign Film Scene”. Like 100 Acres, Fionn Regan’s new album, The Bunkhouse Vol. 1: Anchor Black Tattoo, is no exercise in verse, chorus, verse, chorus. But here, the structure is more like his earliest work. Stream of consciousness songs. They just sort of go places. Nice-sounding places to be sure. But there’s no systematic build up and release of tension. And The Bunkhouse doesn’t sound like 100 Acres either. The innovation there was the gentle orchestration. Understated, but transformative. Here, it’s just Fionn and an acoustic guitar. The beauty of 100 Acres (a big EHL) was how the orchestration accentuated the melodies. They were lovely songs and they were made to sound beautiful. On The Bunkhouse there are songs that probably could have been made to sound like 100 Acres, but here they’re presented more plainly. A good example is ‘Mizen to Malin’. On 100 Acres this would have been a dramatic piece. You’d really feel the waves “doubling in size”. Here, perhaps because 100 Acres set the precedent, the sound feels slightly lonely. Yet what both albums, and all Fionn Regan albums, have in common are the lyrics. Along with people like Sam Beam, Kurt Wagner and Conor O’Brien, Fionn Regan is one of the best lyricists around. He can tell a poignant story, “From the sticks to the big smoke, She looked out the window barely spoke” on Midnight Ferry Crossing. He also does impressionism. ‘The wind it blew the slates off, Your prayers float through the foxglove, Grip the iron bedpost quickly’. This is The Bunkhouse Vol. 1. With luck, Vol. 2 will follow quickly.