Music review: Irish singer-songwriter Fionn Regan sings of romance and natural wonders in Cala

Acclaimed Irish singer-songwriter Fionn Regan. PHOTO: AUTUMN DE WILDE/ABBEY RECORDS

Indie folk


Fionn Regan

Abbey Records

4 stars

On Sunday (Aug 18), Iceland held a funeral to mark the death of Okjokull, the once gigantic glacier, in its central highlands.

The first-ever loss of an Icelandic glacier is likely due to climate change and sadly, it's a harbinger of things to come. An inscription on a memorial plague reads: "In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path."

It is a sobering thought and one that haunts as you listen to Glaciers, the ninth track of Fionn Regan's sixth album, Cala.

The acclaimed Irish singer-songwriter is waxing lyrical about a woman ("She wears a veil of stars"), but in its slow kick-drum thump, the ballad may well be an elegy for a dearly departed glacier too. "Howling to the glaciers", he promises over rolling synths: "I'd do anything for you/I'd shoulder a storm for you."

The elements have always been present throughout Regan's discography but in Cala, (Spanish for "creek"), they are primarily fluvial - swirling, circling, burbling, ephemeral, as present yet elusive as mist, rain and ocean.

It's not surprising then to find out that Regan wrote and recorded all the songs at home in Bray, in the coastal outskirts of Dublin.

At 35 minutes, Cala is a brief and intimate record, sung in, and with, full confidence. At the same time, there's incredible expanse - the line between inside and outside erased.

In the opening track, Collar Of Fur, he promises "to wear this crown of light for you on this August moon". It's futile to resist his invitation: "I got a bridge to light/Leaving in the morning/Maybe I'll leave tonight/If you want, come with me."

Over Spanish guitar arpeggios, his voice caresses each cherished gem of a syllable. Buoyed along on romance, he is seldom clichéd.

Note the wide-eyed infatuation in the jaunty Head Swim, as he gawks at someone who strikes "a pose on marbled stairway"; and the reverence in the title track where his voice grazes the ether: "Effortless like Birkin is/Basket and her jeans cut high." It's a breathless feat of delicacy.

His peripatetic imagination traverses the Atlantic to America, and any traveller will appreciate the awe-struck Brass Locket as it takes in the Hudson River, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Catskill Mountains, and Tennessee.

One is lulled by the waltz in Riverside Heights, where the moon is described as a tambourine with "the perfume of her skin" and "cheekbones (which) are diamonds set".

This culminates in Under The Waves/Tokyo, a radiant alchemy of all the things which set Regan apart from the more humdrum folkies: a generosity of spirit and a reminder to value what we have.

Just under four minutes, the song starts with a heady, surrealistic dream. "Sometimes I just feel frozen/There really was no answer/Just had to cross that ocean," he gasps, as the guitar riff does not relent, and synths float in and out of conscience.

The mood changes and then he's on the other side of the planet. A wordless chorus coos, and does one hear a faint knocking of a wooden fish in the background?

"Talk to me… How was Tokyo?" he asks, close, even if he's physically far away.

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