In County Wicklow in Ireland there is a local beauty spot rather blandly titled the Meeting of the Waters, at which the Avonmore and the Avonbeg merge to form the River Avoca. The river runs for 35 miles until it spills out into the Irish Sea. The vale where the Avonmore and the Avonberg merge was celebrated in a song by Thomas Moore, the famous Irish poet and songwriter. It also serves as the title of Fionn Regan’s latest effort, as well as a metaphor for what he’s tried to do on his first record in five years: merge his folk roots with ambiance and electronic music.
It’s unsurprising that Fionn Regan’s music has been used in Grey’s Anatomy and Skins; it has all the gentle tranquility one would expect from a folk artist who has been compared to Bob Dylan, and a great deal of the lyrical acuity which won Dylan his Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. But Regan’s latest album, The Meetings of the Waters, doesn’t sound like the music of Dylan. On the surface it bears the appearance of a typical Irish-folk album, but dig a little deeper and its complexity becomes apparent.
Take the record’s behemoth track, ‘Cape of Diamonds’: its introductory reversed flicks which, though they conform to the ambience of the rest of the album, are quickly displaced by a growling electric guitar; its lyrics, quiet in their poetic quality (‘I was lost and the sunlight said my name/Left my tears on the road to wash away’); its grand chorus, Regan sounding almost bored (but pleasingly so) as he fights with the size and power of the instrumentation. Comfortably the best track on the record, ‘Cape of Diamonds’ flirts with Regan’s new sound, never truly committing to being a folk ballad or an experiment into the electronic, remaining polished and satisfying simultaneously.
And yet, there are moments of relative simplicity on The Meetings of the Waters, such as the eerie, painfully sad ‘Euphoria’. The track’s simmering tension, ever present until the final strings are plucked, is consolidated by Regan’s moans of ‘euphoria’, as though he is struggling to keep himself contained. The lyrics, enigmatic, imperceptible, are nonetheless well-tuned to the music, seamlessly restraining themselves to the constant tension of the music. It sounds like something from a Radiohead album, albeit stripped-back—the guitar offset by the ominous groans of lazy strings, pitched down low, ambient noises reverberating both left and right.
Other influences rear their heads but are subsumed by Regan’s increasing experimentation. Take the final track, ‘Tsuneni Ai’ (Japanese for ‘Love Always’), and its earlier introduction, ‘Ai’. The former in particular has a distinctly William Basinski quality to it; an elongated, shimmering ambiance, the vague sense of rippling water, all compounded by the feeling that one isn’t really going anywhere. Unfortunately, the two tracks don’t really fit the sound or theme of the record. ‘Ai’ breaks up the album at the two-thirds point rather unnecessarily, and ‘Tsuneni Ai’, while it may borrow extensively from ambient music, doesn’t progress, doesn’t sound organic, and feels very much as though it was just tacked on to the end of the album as a lazy finisher.
The album rolls along satisfactorily enough; tracks like ‘Book of the Moon’ and ‘Wall of Silver’ detract nothing, while they fit in with the overall sound and the themes which run through the record. Sometimes, though, they are indiscernible from other songs; Regan wailing along to soft guitars, reverb-heavy drums and synthesisers subtly framing the instrumentation in the background. The two most impressive tracks, ‘Cape of Diamonds’ and ‘Euphoria’, are interestingly the two which define Regan’s music most directly: the former, his new sound, an attempt to blend the electronic with the acoustic, as evidenced by the choice of album title (ostensibly a metaphor, much as are the majority of Regan’s lyrics); and the latter, a nod to his older, more skeletal work, something he has evidently found difficult to develop.
The Meetings of the Waters is a decent folk album, and it directly channels the natural beauty of the countryside, a theme prominent in Regan’s lyrics, which are consistently impressive; moreover, much of the actual music on this record is extremely polished and evidently shows a respect and talent for great songwriting. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite cohesive enough to be as fantastic as it could, and should, be. Hopefully Fionn Regan’s next effort will develop and improve on this new sound, and hopefully we won’t have to wait another five years to hear it.