After five years, Fionn Regan has returned from the literal wilderness with The Meeting of the Waters, an isolated and atmospheric deviation from his beloved style of one man with a guitar by his side, a poem in his heart and claymation bird in his soul. Opting out of folksy ditties, in favour of oceanic synths and vaguely Japanese infused ambient soundscapes, he has gathered together a collection of swirling baroque pop songs, which manages to reach out to the listener almost instantly.
Gently pulsating for the duration, The Meeting of the Waters is a tender pastiche of his indie contemporaries, even if such was not his intention. Maybe then, this is the reason for its immediacy, since there is very little here that is strikingly new.
Granted, in the context of his own body of work, there is nothing quite like The Meeting of the Waters, but from the get-go, it is difficult not to make constant comparisons to other artists, the parallels in certain melodies or chord progressions extremely glaring. Within this album, there are a glut of moments, when the appeal lies in its overt similarities to the likes of Bon Iver, ‘Funeral’ and ‘Suburbs’-era Aracde Fire, and occasionally to its detriment, that one song by The Temper Trap.
Opening with the title track, driven by a simple pounding rhythm and two notes like ‘Rebellion’ by Arcade Fire if mixed into the ‘Lost in Translation’ soundtrack, the fact that such comparisons crop up regularly does not necessarily denote a weak, unoriginal piece of work. Far from it, in fact, oftentimes, the guessing game is part of the thrill the best being ‘Turn the Skies of Blue On’, which genuinely is Loaded-era Velvet Underground covering the bridge section to Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’.
Alignments aside though, what this album does magnificently well at times is how Regan manages to reshape his sound without necessarily compromising those elements, which made people fall in love with him as he first emerged. Instead of going head on into Brian Eno muzak terrain, he tries for a call and response between the ethereal backdrop and his voice with the guitar accompaniment. Coming in waves between each line sung, how he structures this whole effect is actually quite brilliant as it captures the essence of his evolution. He sings, the synths and found sounds wash over him pulling him a little further away from classic Regan until the listener is engulfed in an ocean of minimalist electronic of ‘Ai’.
Then, to shake things up a little, he jumps into a song like ‘Babushka Yai-ya’, a raucous punk number, which is Sonic Youth without the distortion pedal that upsets the pacing perfectly, like a brief but necessary enema that prevents his experiment from becoming an indulgent sprawl. Gripping as he jams on the breaks, throwing in aggressively atonal guitars, once the song shudders to a halt at the two minute mark, the listener has been sufficiently awoken for him to return to the earlier mood, using motifs from the first half, which really hammers home the point that this is an album to be consumed whole, and not in chunks.
Thereafter, the main highlight is ‘Euphoria’, which is in a sense, the last proper track on ‘The Meeting of the Waters’. This is an example of his musical dynamics being carefully designed to fit the lyrical content of the song, with the guitar building up to the moment of “euphoria” that he announces in a way both grandiose and modest. A fitting climax, what ensues thereafter is an extended coda of floating atmospheric synthesizers, a repeat of ‘Tsuneni Ai’, which works just fine as a background noise to fade things out, while overstaying its welcome once past the ten minute point without much of an end in sight.
In the end, Regan has not reinvented the wheel, nor has he returned to society like a prophet speaking in tongues. However, he has managed to redefine who he is, and he has executed this extremely well. It would be a great challenge to point out any aspect of The Meeting of the Waters that is contrived, disingenuous or experimental purely for its own sake. This might not be his magnum opus, but neither does it signify a songwriter who has gone stale. If anything, it hints at something immensely fascinating on the horizon.