Issue #110: The End Of History by Fionn Regan

April 24, 2018

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The End Of History by Fionn Regan
Released On August 7, 2006
Released By Bella Union & Lost Highway Records

This Week’s Selection Chosen By Guest Contributor Jess Abbott (of Tancred)

I found Fionn Regan’s The End Of History on MySpace when I was 15 or 16 and trying to figure out who I was musically. The popular scene in my town was all about hardcore, screamo, and pop punk, and I had fun trying to fit in with that, but it wasn’t until I found Fionn Regan that I really felt at home with something. It’s hard to describe. There is something so comforting in his lyrics, in the warmth of his guitar tone on the album — a Martin D-15, which led me to buying my own — that feels like a quiet snowy night and makes you feel safe and gentle. “Snowy Atlas Mountains” is my favorite track from the album. I’ve never gotten tired of his story telling and atmosphere — it feels special every time I listen to it. It has to be my most played album. Every song is so perfect and they all fit together seamlessly. I don’t understand how this album isn’t on everyone’s radar.

Jess Abbott (@ytancredjess)
Poised Intoner & Sophic Lyricist

What a beautiful album. Passive listening renders very pretty accompaniment for whatever you might be doing — sweet moments with kids, pensive driving along routes you’ve driven a zillion times… But close listening is where the gripping elegance of The End Of History really comes into focus. Not a note is out of place on the album’s entirety, from songs’ structure and vocal harmonies to chordal ornamentation and Regan’s intent fingerpicking. It’s especially fun to follow his thumb — the way he navigates and punctuates with great economy and care throughout. (I wrote a blog post at one point about this bucolic video of Regan precisely picking the title track from his 2011 album 100 Acres Of Sycamore — you get a clear view of his technique.) All that care makes “Put A Penny In The Slot” such a fun departure in terms of theme. I fell for the song a few years back, but hearing the lyrics in context makes the opening — “I apologize / Seem to have arrived home with items in my bag from your house” — even more striking and strangely disarming. Speaking of recontextualization, it’s hard to overstate how uplifting it was to hear Regan sing “the days have no numbers” in “Abacus,” not having heard the song since Bon Iver’s 22, A Million album came out. Justin Vernon uses that poignant moment brilliantly in closing track “1000000 Million,” and hearing those words again immediately and permanently elevated both songs in terms of emotional impact. And don’t get me started on the “I hope that happiness finds its way to your little house” line in “Noah (Ghost In A Sheet).” Understated and devastating, yet characteristically efficient.

Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds

Pensive & prismatic Irish trouveur.

There are towns in the highlands of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia where generations of families are raised with music as much a part of their lives as food and shelter. It’s more than just learning to play guitar or picking up a few licks for a night out at a local bar. We’re talking about weeknights spent at square dances, weekend high school parties where nobody cares what sports team you’re involved with but the assumption is that you know your way around a piano, a fiddle, a Bodhran, and far more likely, all three. Musical merit has a higher bar which knows no limits because there’s little exposure to pop culture, and the bar is set by your peers. Interestingly, few people with such genuine talent are even aware how incredible it is relative to popular music. It’s never been the point or the focus. It just is what it is — a part of their lives. So when you’re travelling there, and you happen to be in s small village pub and given the opportunity to hear a local offering to pick up a guitar and finger-pick a little tune they wrote — you take that opportunity because it will be a mind-blowing evening of intimate and moving songwriting involving folk songs that could make hit record, but never will. They were written on a whim and may never be heard again. I think a similar phenomenon happens in Ireland and every now and then you get a Glen Hansard, a Damien Rice, or a Dolores O’Riordan who pops up unassuming, barely aware of their own impact before they’ve become a household name. Fionn Regan is one of these black swans and though there’s the “cred” of notable artists lauding his early EP’s, The End Of History is end-to-end minimal, full of understated instrumentation, acoustic melodies and a delivery which belies a confident but reserved tone. His are heartfelt songs, gentle, simple and as reliably bare as the sentiments they deliver. The End Of History implies something grandiose and monumentally game-changing. Instead, it’s something stable, solid and just charmingly flawed enough to return to again and again just like an old pub.

Darryl Wright (@punksteez)
Lovechild Of The Music & Technology Marriage

I know I’ve heard at least a song or two from Fionn Regan’s debut album, now over a decade old and, bizarrely enough, out of print. What I can’t quite figure out is what prevented me from investigating further, as I often like things that hoe the folky row Regan so expertly does here. Now that I have listened, I’m astonished at how fully formed this is for a first album. All signs point to Regan putting in his 10,000 hours well before setting foot in the studio. The guitar playing alone is superb throughout, revealing him as likely one of the finest fingerpickers of our time. The arrangements and production, also by Regan, are simple yet very effective, keeping the guitar in the foreground while enhancing the songs with touches of percussion, piano, and strings. About the worst thing you could objectively say about The End Of History is that there is an overall sameness of texture, rhythm, and melodic invention so it took several plays to fully grasp what distinguished one song from another. Perhaps that’s why my favorite song, “Snowy Atlas Mountains,” is one of the most different on the album, with squirrelly cello, loads of atmosphere, and dark imagery like “My jumper is soaked in pig’s blood” and “The wolves came on the radio, transmitting through a portal in the snowy Atlas mountains.” I believe Regan is playing a saw to imitate the howling winds and build tension, leading to the dramatic cymbal strike about a minute before the end of the song. It’s probably the most spine-tingling moment on the album, followed by more cello and some dazzling guitar. The title track is also a highlight, bringing to mind songs by John Dowland (try this one, from 1603) as much as usual suspects like Nick Drake. I’m really glad I spent time with this album and plan to listen to more of his work. His voice, a little light and reedy, sometimes on the edge of cracking, is not 100% my cup of tea but he uses it well — and you might think it’s perfect. But you won’t know unless you listen.

Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore

There’s this understanding that acoustic folk music is supposed to be mellow and calming, relaxing somehow. Yet I tend to find that the folk music I connect with the most has dark, intense moods at its center. Sometimes it’s sadness, sometimes it’s foreboding, sometimes it’s a carefully controlled anger, but it’s never calm and relaxing. Fionn Regan has that in common with all of my favorites, from Nick Drake to Damien Rice. While The End Of History features quite a few musical elements besides Regan’s guitar, they are rarely used to create the standard full-band sound. Instead, they add atmosphere, lending depth to Regan’s troubled, emotional songs. The low, humming violin and scraping cymbals that show up during “Snowy Atlas Mountains” give weight to the subtle intensity of Regan’s lyrical delivery. The quietly crooning backing vocals and softly plucked bass notes on “The Cowshed” sharpen the elegiac mood of this song of eloquent loss. Even the several tunes that really are just Regan and his guitar — “Hey Rabbit,” for example — almost use the perfectly captured ambience of the room in which they were recorded to bring a portentous undertone to these songs. That undertone is laced throughout this album, and does almost as much of the work of making this a memorable, gripping album as the lyrics and tunes Regan offers to us.

Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground

Nothing slays me like a sad boy with a guitar. It’s been my downfall many a time and despite trying, I never can quite quit the sad boy with a guitar. Within about 30 seconds of track one, “Be Good Or Be Gone,” I thought to myself the same thing I’d thought so many times before: “oh no, I’m in love with this person.” I listened to this record for the first time early in the morning on a trip to San Francisco, a day after getting a tarot reading that told me that I keep making the same mistakes. Looking to the bay and listening to Reagan’s lilting guitar picking and clear voice, that advice took on more resonance. As beautiful as a record like this is, as much as each song seemingly nourished a deep craving within me, was this helpful? Perhaps this is what the tarot said — that falling in love with sad boys with guitars is turning me into a sad girl with a record collection, surrounded by guitar picking troubadours and dust. Of course, I played the record again immediately because I was too busy swimming in my own confusion to pay any real attention to the music. Through the fog of my self-pity, the songs shined through in a different way — the delicious teenage melancholy of “Abacus” and playful jaunt of “Put A Penny In The Slot” took on buoyancy. There’s no reason to fight what I love, despite what some Castro district tarot card readers said. Maybe I am a sad indie girl with a record collection, but now I have a new record I get to come back to time and time again. Thanks for going on this journey with me and if you couldn’t tell, you should probably listen to The End Of History. Hopefully it will trigger an existential crisis of your own.

Hannah Angst (@missangst)
Unappreciated Scholar Of The Muses

Click here to watch the coltish video for “Put A Penny In The Slot.”

A video as flowing & facile as the song itself.

I caught a nasty cold this past Saturday. It included chills, headaches (which I almost never get, not even from hangovers), lightheadedness, and coughing fits. ‘Twas not fun. Sadly, listening to music was just not a thing for multiple days. Indeed, when your head feels like it’s submerged and everything around you is a dull-grey blur, simply paying attention is a chore. After laying either in my bed or on my couch for more or less two straight days, I decided to attempt to function as a human. I reasoned that if I wanted to get something done, I should ease myself into it. Thus: why not see what album OYR offered this week. And I gotta say, there are few records that I would’ve had the patience to listen to this week, and The End Of History is among them. Regan’s singing and playing — reminiscent of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, an album that’s been in my top 10 since college — is both haunting and melancholic, and also uplifting. It inspired me to fight through the same overcast sky I’ve always pictured Regan’s native country having. Even the tense horror movie-esque violin accents of “Snowy Atlas Mountains” and “Noah (Ghost In A Sheet)” were soothing to my ear. Maybe that’s the lightheadedness talking (hearing?). At any rate, the pillow-y nature of it all made for a less shitty week than it would’ve otherwise been. For that I am grateful. When you’re sick, your focus narrows to the bare essentials — eating as necessity, evaluation of motor functions, finding clear thought. The same can be said for The End Of History with its effective paring down to a song’s basest elements — melody, lyricism, structure. This, I suppose, is just a lot of words that end up saying, “Well, that was an interesting experiment.” And while interesting, it’s one I’d prefer not to repeat any time soon.

Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That

I want you to imagine the biggest, brightest warning sign with alarms blaring in your mind. Have you got it? Is it internally deafening? Good, now here’s what I have to say about this album: The End Of History by Fionn Regan will ruin your life and relationships if you listen to it in the wrong frame of mind. Additionally, it is a dangerous album to listen to in public when you feel like your life is in shambles. I suppose it depends on your perspective though. I think if I were at home in my PJs and able to properly release these feelings then this album would be just what I’m looking for. However, as I’m writing this on a public computer in my classroom at Uni, my morning is not my own. Today one thing seemed to go wrong after another. I spilt black ink all over the carpet in my apartment, two weeks before I have to move out. I then had a huge fight with my partner and was late to my team meeting. I’m graduating in two weeks and my degree is riding on the success of one last assignment which I’m really struggling with. I’m sitting in this room, surrounded by my peers, trying not to cry like a baby to Fionn’s cathartic melodies and emotionally piercing lyrics. As I type this section, my favourite track of this album, “Put A Penny In The Slot” is playing through my headphones and I was stopped mid-sentence by this line: “Good company and grief sit like a doc leaf / sits beside a singing nettle.” I’m starting to believe that Fionn is a sadist hell bent on making myself and the rest of the world look like big blubbering babies in inappropriate settings. For those of you are foolish enough to believe that you are in control of your emotions, let this album be your test. I’m taking all bets, ladies and gentlemen. It’s Fionn Regan versus the world and I’m putting my money on Fionn.

Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making

The fact that Fionn Regan is from Ireland could almost be lost on most people if information wasn’t provided beforehand or if those listening didn’t give just an extra little ounce of attention to the subtleties of Regan’s voice. This seems like a slight unfortunate absence at first, since the natural accented leanings of vocalists from around the world can be some of the most pleasing and unique aspects of their recordings. Yet, there’s still just enough of something there to pull the ear inward and inspire particular interest, alongside the familiarity of a sweetly strummed acoustic guitar and a few innocent, un-intrusive verses that are simultaneously straightforward and vague enough to feel like poetry (“I read to you on Saturdays / Museum has closed down / Sell all your things / At the end of the drive / Be good or be gone / Be good or be, be gone”). The opening song projects that earnest quality like when a guy just puts his thoughts to a gentle melody and records the whole thing in a DIY setting at home — all while still preserving clear sound and not going for an exposed, lo-fi one-take. It’s charming and endearing and reminds you of why guys who write songs for girls became such a popular trope in storytelling over the years. “The Underwood Typewriter” keeps the vibe going and you start to think you’re just going to be wonderfully serenaded in this way for the entire album. Basic but beautiful songs. Then suddenly “Hunters Map” pushes Regan’s tonal ambition out just a little farther. There’s reverb and more expansive tone to the guitar. His nimble finger work remains an admirable and enjoyable feature — impeccable and impressive throughout — but there’s an allowance for slightly more shine and a touch of moderate enhancement beyond natural sound. Figurative bells and whistles don’t start to billow out of control however, as “Hey Rabbit” immediately then brings Regan’s voice back in close proximity to his microphone of choice re-introducing that bare and natural quality, almost as though the song were recorded in a small booth or closet space. Songs like “Snowy Atlas Mountains” add in light cymbal flourishes and some silky string support that show Regan in a great spotlight outside of just guitar singer-songwriter mode, but none of the songs attack with so much change as to feel foreign or like an experimental anomaly one-off. Minor shifts in recording technique that create a sense of either intimate private recordings or more spacious live rooms, inclusion of a few other instruments from time to time, and of course, some variation in rhythmic style — not all relaxed and lazy Sunday morning melodies — are what give The End of History its assorted character. This isn’t an album of the same musical approach given to 13 different stories. There are moments that channel qualities orbiting everything from the simplicity of Tallest Man On Earth and Bright Eyes, to the slightly more produced, crystalline sound style of City And Colour. And all of that is achieved with very little fuss or sonic crowding. If one doesn’t listen carefully, the album may sound diluted with a uniform sameness but in reality, The End of History excels at providing a range of musical personality without straying far from what makes Fionn Regan such a pleasure to listen to: just his sweet, slightly accented, voice and a well-played guitar.

Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier

On Friday morning, I explained to a student what Modernist literature is like. Coaxing him through a series of questions to guide his thinking in a way he hasn’t done before, taking him from a Hemingway story that “doesn’t make sense” to the familiar of his own life, I asked finally, “and how would that make you feel?” Disappointed, he answered, disappointment in knowing what you thought would work won’t work, that because of war, or your skin, or your gender, or just because, all that work you’ve done doesn’t matter like you thought it would. “Does that make sense,” I asked, leaning over the story. “Not really,” he said in that way that told me it really did, that the disappointment made so much sense that he couldn’t understand why it happened like that to him before. What we didn’t cover, not yet, is the chance that comes with the disappointment to make something beautiful. Buried in that job you didn’t get, that guy who didn’t call you back, lies a sweet awareness that the bad things still march you onward into the little joys you find in your life. Regan’s ability here to capture regret in a self-aware, unselfish manner pulls through in his combination of plucked guitar, quiet violin, and unabashedly hopeful vocals. Nods to other soulful singers like Jeff Buckley and Bob Dylan organically fold into a familiar ode to heartbreak with no intent to completely remake the experience, but instead to tell of his while calling up the listener’s own. If the first song is weak, if the last couple limp a bit, the album doesn’t really suffer for it, but becomes even that more relatable and human.

Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite

Some days, you are just so in need of a piece of music that somehow fits your mood perfectly and you don’t even realize that you are looking for it. Today was that kind of day for me and this album supplied that kind of music — or song — for me. “Bunker Or Basement” starts off so beautifully and the lyrics so soft yet powerful, but what really got me was the second half of the song (of course, it’s instrumental). I’ve spoken enough now about my love of instrumental music pieces, and this one honestly sounds like it could score a movie. It’s hauntingly beautiful with the piano and guitar fitting perfectly together and the mood it creates rendering the listener a bit misty eyed, if we’re being honest. Like I said, just one of those days where the music just needed to find me. The album as a whole is beautifully executed, well written, and full of great musicality. I started off the day listening to country music in the sun — finally warm enough to be outside with no jacket — and when I put this album on, I knew it was a winner. Honestly I could go on for so long about how much I love the musical piece in “Bunker Or Basement,” but let me just say it is going to be on repeat for the foreseeable future.

Chelsea Kostrey (@chelseakostrey)
Retrophile & Festival Enthusiast

“This generation’s answer to Bob Dylan” as proclaimed by Lucinda Williams.

I recently decided to start taking the bus more often. I can’t explain why: I’ve spent nearly three decades praising the NYC subway system and lamenting the tragedy it is that the buses have to deal with things like everyday traffic and the rules of the road, but here I am now romanticizing late night bus rides. Coinciding almost perfectly with this newfound appreciation of street-level public transportation of mine is this week’s subject: Fionn Regan’s The End Of History. From the first notes of “Be Good Or Be Gone,” I knew I had found the perfect complement to my ride. Much like my most listened to Ryan Adams records (29, Easy Tiger, and Ashes & Fire), The End Of History is much more calm than a majority of my music collection, but I don’t find it dull. I didn’t even pay attention to most of the songs during my first listen to this album — not because I thought it was boring, but because I got lost in the soothing sounds while staring out the window at the streets. There were two major exceptions: “Put A Penny In The Slot,” which is the type of song that, before it was even over, I was already imagining myself learning how to play on my guitar and performing it at an open mic event that I know I’ll never attend; and the lively instrumental second half of “Bunker Or Basement,” which in my mind I’ve taken to referring to as “Basement” (and naturally I think of the first half as “Bunker”). But whether I was actively tapping along with the music or passively taking it in while watching stop signs being passed by, I realized that, much like the aforementioned Ryan Adams records, or the first Chris Wollard and The Ship Thieves album, The End Of History is the type of album I want with me when I go on a long trip. However, one thing remains uncertain: was my enjoyment of this album enhanced by taking a bus, or did I begin to enjoy taking the bus more because of this album?

Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie

I have one rule when it comes to this singer-songwriter, “Just Me & My Guitar,” type of music: I have to be able to understand the lyrics. On this album, Mr. Regan sings so clearly and with such relatable and engaging lyrics, that I have no trouble imagining that he is my friend and he has invited me over to his place to listen to his new songs… which, of course, only adds to the idea that he might, one day, write and sing a song about me. The ultimate dream. The similarities that Mr. Regan has to a pre-accident Bob Dylan are striking. There are, in fact, several songs on the album that felt like they were newly discovered outtakes from Freewheeliin’ Bob Dylan. But I think that that might just be an artifact of an aesthetic of the genre. When you’re making folk music, there will be some things that you just do during recording, no matter what’s written in your notebook. Overall, I would definitely say I enjoyed the album and would be interested in looking into Mr. Regan’s other albums to see how they hold up.

James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts

I’ve had a really stressful week, so I’m super thankful for this week’s pick on OYR. The End Of History was exactly what I needed to wind down, decompress, and put the bullshit behind me. It’s almost immediately apparent that Fionn Regan is an otherworldly talent in terms of song writing. Throughout the record, I found myself smiling at his expert use of metaphors, much in the same way I do when I’m listening to my favorite MC’s. The first one that caught me was on “The Underwood Typewriter” where Regan says “a hood is a home for someone who lives alone,” which I can relate to all to well. And then there’s “Hey Rabbit” on which he describes “ideas are like sparrows that dart down the hall, the chimney and out the spout / down a wormhole and back out my mouth.” That could just as easily be a lyric from Common or Black Thought touting their own lyrical dexterity. But the album’s not void of it’s own musical highlights as well. I got goosebumps from the vocal harmonies employed on “The Cowshed,” and the flourishes of strings on “Snowy Atlas Mountains” are just the right touch to give the track some ominous tension. Regan’s done an outstanding job here of taking us by the hand through his own whimsical world.

Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator

Fionn’s music is universal, minimally built on his vocal melody and picking cadence. Though he builds the backdrop of each song skillfully — with judicious backing vocals and baroscopic fills — it’s not where your attention and praise end up during each track on this record. It’s his lyrics, deeply descriptive and emotive words that flow out in a way that makes you wonder if he’s always thinking in prose. Though he’s keen to drop a literary reference or two (Mark Twain in “Put A Penny In The Slot” for instance), Regan is not making music that will fly over your head if you drift off in his music. He’s just as comfortable constructing eloquent auguries (“Noah (Ghost In A Sheet)“) as he is waxing poetically with silly zoological metaphors (“Hey Rabbit“). His more abstract ruminations (“Bunker Or Basement“) resonate just as strongly as his more neatly wrapped up ideas (“Be Good Or Be Gone“). You end up beyond captivated with his voice, a restless twang that seems tailor made for his brand of musical discourse, and it makes every single word and phrase soar over his supernatant melodies on this tremendous, galvanizing album.

Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart

Next Week’s Selection:
Chrome Neon Jesus by Teenage Wrist
Chosen By Steve Lampiris

Off Your Radar Newsletter

Editor: Doug Nunnally

Contributors: James Anderson, Hannah Angst, Laura Burroughs, Erin Calvert, Catherine Dempsey, Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford, Dustin Gates, Kira Grunenberg, Davy Jones, Chelsea Kostrey, Steve Lampiris, David Munro, Drew Necci, Jeremy Shatan, & Darryl Wright

Logo By Matt Klimas


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