Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail – Sea Legs
Hooked from the start – ‘Sea Legs’ caught the imagination and wormed into this cochlea. This is bait for the open ear.
An offering to the gods of daring and courageous collaboration, who must surely now look down on their wayward sons and be well pleased.
Like a force of nature, ‘Sea Legs’ lures the listener through the lilting waves and mean-mother moodiness of the sea – the key character at play across the seven tracks.
Ciaran Lavery and Ryan Vail seem a most unlikely coupling – as the blurb says ‘two artists from very different worlds. Ciaran is a young alt-folk singer from Aghagallon who has racked up an impressive 11 million plays on Spotify while Ryan Vail is a minimal electronic artist who creates widescreen soundscapes with piano, synthesisers and found sounds’.
After a couple of online conversations, the pair met up at a festival, an idea went into gestation and something small and beautifully formed has been created. Here are two artists expert in their own crafts, neither lost at sea nor flotsam and jetsam, but rather paddling their own canoes while wide open to the concept of creative companionship.
There are many captivating aspects to ‘Sea Legs’, but listen very carefully to the subtle nuances of sound and how they toy with the senses. The sea-scape is both the emotional rock and executioner – she has a voice throughout and this subtle siren makes sure she’s heard.
Contrasting voices feature large on ‘Sea Legs’ – anyone who’s familiar with Ciaran Lavery knows his voice is purity personified, but a stark feature of ‘Sea Legs’ is the variety of spoken voice – from Donegal voices in the vernacular for both opening and closing tracks, to the soft trans-Atlantic tones mid-way through in ‘Shipping Forecast’.
Experimenting with format and style, the opening track is something of a short social history snapshot – a documentary-style vignette of the isolated life of a lowly fisherman. As he goes about his work – the rasp and rhythm of both tools and engine unfurl for his disembodied voice to tell us about a few good weeks fishing followed by a few beers at Campbelltown in Scotland. The sound effects continue, then like a child, in a man’s voice, he says ‘I have a bigger boat – a big one in there’.
This strikes a chord – that hits the gut.
With a wave of nostalgia, for a way of life on the way out, the music flows wistfully towards the sound of Ciaran Lavery’s voice on track 2 – the very beautiful ‘Colour Blue’ (what else). A song of lost love, loneliness and longing with just the sound of that siren sea for company (yet with wry, tongue in cheek lyrics like ‘she chews her gum with her mouth closed’). Listen closely though – to the interesting turn of phrase and the eerie mockery of a throaty, taunting undercurrent toward the end.
Moving swiftly on, ‘The Sea at Night’ may seem to have the innocence of a Robbie Burns’ poem on the surface (my love is like/the sea at night), but that brooding, slightly blood curdling voice as undercurrent snarls and torments into a dark night of the soul with twist of fate and turn of tide. It’s really quite brilliant, if slightly unsettling.
In ‘Shipping Forecast’ the sea’s umbilical is cast from the shores of Donegal across the Atlantic. That tug of love theme continues here – but this time with a Boston accent. A man speaks, with an almost croaking voice – loaded with some sense of aching loss or foreboding – as the sea laps the sides of a boat, its engine running, going nowhere:
It’s black and wet in my head. I smoke on the high deck at the place where my family set sail yesterday. A hundred miles out to sea.
A sense of overwhelming sadness comes in waves, lapping up some untold tragedy. ‘Sea Legs’ will toy with your emotions and trigger the imagination – no more so than in ‘Shipping Forecast’ – quite cimema-esque.
Now ‘Nick Cave’s Band’ – this time, in my head, there’s a beach fire crackling and guitar strumming to distant waves. This time, there’s Micky Rourke and Leonard Cohen entwined in lyrical form (though not as well refined). Piano and siren sounds; mellow and meandering, if strangely incongruous (like the man himself) it sails into ‘Flow’, the penultimate track, where we feel the repetitive, rhythmic rocking of the boat, the ebb and flow, mantra-style:
For the sweetheart. For the carousel ride. For the sweetheart. For the doors in my mind.
And finally, ‘Ceol na Mara’ – which roughly translates as ‘Music of the Sea’. Here, the unmistakeable terse consonants and swollen syllables of spoken word poet Conor O’Kane – aka Teknopeasant – resonates, with his eloquent tribute to she who must be obeyed – The Sea.
Immerse yourself in ‘Sea Legs’ – it might just sweep you off your feet.