Where I Should End (ie.too)
If the way that the voices of Morgana MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty meld and float and sparkle like light dancing on the surface of a placid Irish river suggests something of the ephemeral, indeed induce in some gushing paeans to the delicate beauty of it all, it would be doing them a disservice.
Not because any of it is untrue – that is how they sound, and when you add the fact harp is a key instrument in their arsenal, that just works as a pretty/glittery/shimmery multiplier - but because it would underplay how grounded they and their songs are.
To showcase this I could pull out the final song on this, their second album, Any Dreams. Coming out of a moody piano and harp interplay in House it feels like an etude that reveals itself in retrospect as more of a prelude, Any Dreams is built on a classic minimalist foundation of repetitive synths that is equal parts Philip Glass and Stereolab.
The feel is anything but old folk; more European and open. And it has the quiet electronic pulse of a late-night train journey. On top of it, MacIntyre and Doherty pass judgement on the passing city as a metaphor for the passing of a relationship, with what feels like emotions in monotone. At least until you realise that this is actually building to a cry, a release, just before the song falls back into its rhythm and rolls on even as the album ends.
However, I think an equally good example of the multi-strands of Saint Sister can be found two tracks earlier, in Manchester Air. It begins like any traditional folk song, their two voices unaccompanied and suggesting a story begun around a communal table but actually lived in the grit of every day.
Soon to those voices will come a low drone that throbs within, tight-clipped simple percussion and then a fiddle that catches halfway between strings and pipes, as the story is unfurled.
“From the back of your bike I told you I was late/You said I can't go much faster/I said no not like that,” it begins, those voices flutey and deceptively casual. “Then I knew by your grip/That you knew what I meant/Said whatever happens/This is now and it's heaven.”
While we learn a little bit more about the way this couple interact, exactly what happens to them is never made explicit. But when you know that the song was written in the lead up to the Irish referendum on access to abortion in 2018, and you remember the thousands of young Irish women who had made the trip across the Irish Sea (usually alone, unlike the central character in the song) to find a way out of their predicament, the sadness and anger and displacement of Manchester Air become clearer.
Two songs, both finding combinations of traditional and contemporary, and rooted in things very real. It is the way Saint Sister play throughout. Allowing them to be smilingly tripping in Karaoke Song (think Clannad, with harp, lightly refashioned by Swedish popmeisters) and enigmatically furrowed-browed in Oh My God Oh Canada (in the manner of Aldous Harding), just as comfortably as they put an old folk tune through an Eno-esque treatment in Date Night, or fly below the radar for the first half of Irish Hour until opening out with an expanded string section and a more pronounced mechanised rhythm track.
So, yeah, delicate and pretty and airy. But that’s only half the story.