A satisfying third set from the Irish singer which leaves a warm feeling in the soul.
Mike Diver 2011-08-16
You could be forgiven for missing Fionn Regan’s third long-player in the release schedules. Unlike his previous set, 2010’s The Shadow of an Empire, this arrives with relatively little fanfare, a result of the Bray-born singer’s retreat from the mainstream five years on from his Mercury-nominated debut, The End of History. Said disc was an understated delight, but its follow-up favoured amplification over introspection, and its troubled gestation produced an underwhelming collection. But 100 Acres of Sycamore finds Regan returning to the acoustic prettiness of his first album, embellishments restricted to gently swelling strings rather than distracting bombast.
Regan’s focus has shifted – where he previously looked out onto the world from a lofty position in the indie-folk world, today he’s back in the margins that once held him so dearly. And he’s comfortable here, operating at a commercial level below that of fellow Mercury nominee (and Brit-winner) Laura Marling, and thus able to write without the pressure that those in the spotlight have to endure. 100 Acres of Sycamore is an unhurried set that makes its point lightly, without bluster. Recorded overseas, in a Spanish villa owned by the actress Anna Friel, it’s full of a wistfulness that perhaps wouldn’t have manifested had this been produced in more familiar surroundings. The speed of its capture – straight to tape in just seven days – results in a freshness that evokes Regan’s fine EPs for the Anvil label, Reservoir and Hotel Room. This is the sound of an artist returning to his roots in the right way – for personal gratification rather than commercial gain.
Such is the intimacy throughout this album – though the strings are full, they never overpower the simple set-up of reflective lyrics and strummed guitar – that one feels a direct connection with the artist, on an individual-to-individual level. Regan was singing for himself, honest and sincere, when recording these tracks; and with his voice in a pair of headphones, the listener is transported to the Majorcan residence the Irishman found so conducive to crafting album three. It’s a fine body of work, the kind of album that doesn’t benefit from having highlights lifted from it. True, there are songs that beguile with the sort of laidback beauty that so few indie-folk performers are capable of producing – 1st Day of May, lead single For a Nightingale, the echo-soaked (and over-too-soon) closer Golden Light (imagine Bradford Cox going country) – but this is a collection best heard as the artist intended: in the order presented, without compromise. That warmth you’re feeling come its close, try to hold onto it. It’s a contentment few albums leave you with.