The first post-album EP from Kildare-native Sadhbh O’Sullivan – better known among the music-lovers of Ireland and beyond as Sive – begins on a melancholy note. The sad loose crying of a double bass and a cello creates a depressed little whirlwind around the singer’s voice as it bemoans too much empty time to think and too little purpose. Eight bars of this could have simply winded down and finished and voilà! a concept album is complete. However the soft plucking of guitar strings hit those unhappy sounds like a glimpse of sunlight through a stone prison wall and before long the singer has risen from her hole; the drums and bass shortly arrive with a marching purpose carrying the song onwards with a new-found pragmatism.
This is what you hear when you listen attentively to ‘Turn Down the Silence’, Sive’s latest four-track EP. But a less attentive listener will not hear the strange bewildering sounds of an abstract concept being applied impenetrably to sound waves. Instead they will hear a song whose simplicity betrays little of the thoughtfulness that underlies it; it will sound like a poppy folk number, the meaning of which is irrelevant when all you want is a nice song to do the washing up to.
It is a composer’s mind that is behind this EP. Never content with making things sound nice, something more is always being grasped at, but at the same time it sure does sound nice. Wingless Bird makes use of vocal loops and contains the EP’s most outright pleasing melodies. On the surface it’s a song about feeling grounded and stifled by lost love. The singer is oppressed and pleads to be taken back, wondering if she’ll be confined to being a “thing of the past”. The suffering in the lyrics is offset by the upbeat music, but this is brought up to a complete level of self-belief and optimism when the lyrics “I’m losing voice around you” – said for the third time in the song – are sung with such gentle personality and followed by a torrential return of the vocal loops that you know the opposite of the sentiment expressed in the lyrics is the real truth.
So if thoughtfulness and pleasant sounds are the EP’s first and second most identifiable features then the wildly variant influences and the seamless blending of them come in a close third and fourth. Maude begins with a slow organ-like sound that feels like an olde English ballade, before being taken over by a sean nós percussion and fiddle that should completely change the mood of the tune. But Sive’s voice ties these disparate influences together and you don’t skip a beat when you hear it; it seems perfectly natural. In a way she’s homogenising and sterilising these sounds but she undeniably makes them her own, which is what any great artist should aim to do.
Similarly If I Had A Home To Go To is like a scene from ‘La Vie en Rose’ in which you can almost see the dingy street on which the singer has “sung all day for coins”. The song’s waltz should be played on a battered accordion but it’s transposed onto a glockenspiel instead, replacing the desperate earthiness of that former instrument with the consistent sweetness of the latter. Each of the songs have this teasing beginning in which you can almost hear the roots of the songs resonating beneath the surface, but as they progress layers of sound are added in the form of vocals and percussion to take you away from them so you end up no longer digging for the roots, but standing atop the tallest of trees in a gale-force wind.