It’s fairly likely that the first either of us that’s you, the reader, and me, the journalist, unless you’re reading this together with someone else, in which case, bully for you heard of Laura Veirs or her much-acclaimed Carbon Glacier album last year, although in actual fact this latest release brings the bespectacled Canadian’s tally up to around the half dozen mark.
Carbon Glacier was certainly the work of a mature and staunchly individualist songwriter with an intuitive sense of atmosphere and an appreciation of music’s ability to carry both the singer and the listener along with it. Likewise showcased in her wild and occasionally stark brand of folky Americana were a fascination with weather, vista and vale so all consuming that, rather than simply capturing her heart, nature seemed to have perforated and subsumed her very being. Whether this was unleashed or merely enhanced by her obsessive relationship with Mandarin, a language drenched in cultural reverence for the spirits of the land and sea, I can’t say.
The singer of “Snow Camping”, a magically intimate summoning of childhood sanctuary, could feel “the weight of my bones on the rocks below” as she stood in moonlight and snowflakes “hovered” around her, and in the minimally ornate discursion on the seductiveness of sensualism that was “Rapture”, Veirs established the hidden link between Basho’s “plunking ponds and toads” and “the fate of Kurt Cobain / junk coursing through his veins.” As a person subsumed by her elements, Veirs wrote songs that were both personal and oddly distant, poetically capturing the intimately mundane (perhaps I should say normal, or natural) in ways that let it reflect the scope of life as a whole; by acknowledging her fixed point in the flow of things, she let her perspective and the landscape she was viewing became one for the listener.
On the back of that record’s success, Veirs’ life has become anything but stationary. Indeed, the album title refers to both a line from a poem by that renowned tree hugging rascal Walt Whitman, and Veirs herself as she toured incessantly with her band The Tortured Souls, burning through towns with varying brightness as they followed their protracted orbit home. The imagery of Veirs’ songwriting is nature-based almost to self-parody; on the brave and lovely “Spelunking”, she sings “If I took you darling / to the caverns of my heart / would you light the lamp, dear?”, only to continue “And see fish without eyes / bats with their heads hanging down / to the ground /would you still come around?” Things continue in rather more conventionally heart-warming style from there on in, but not before you’ve received a little shock to your system that prompts an indulgent smile at the silliness even as the base metaphor is cleverly and efficiently deepened.
Despite the fact that Veirs says this album is about the music industry though you’d never know it I’m going to stick my neck out a little and call this her loved-up collection, with the meteor also a stand-in for her heart. This time around, almost every track is a love song, with Veirs addressing the listener directly rather than merely singing in their presence, as was formerly the case.
I suspect that for Veirs life on the road has been dynamic in more ways than one. “Galaxies” begins “When you sing / when you sing / stars fill up my eyes / galaxies fall down my cheeks / they flood the streets / when we dance”, there’s a song called “Secret Someones”, and allusion is made later to “pulling off” each other’s bathing suits. Whereas on Carbon Glacier the predominant imagery was of frozen water and isolated height, now the recurring theme is floating, or more precisely that strange and effortless elation of levitation brought on by infatuation, literally “Where Gravity’s Dead”, which is both a song title and a phrase that pops up on several other songs (and whereon she sings “But doesn’t it get lonely / riding up there to the sun / on a single raft for one? / Don’t you wish for someone / to pull you on a string / down from the atmosphere / down into a clear-ing to kiss / and box your ears?”, which I think we can agree is marvelous and rather adorable).
In keeping with all this liquid getting heated by “Fire Snakes” and flowing about the place, letting you ride rafts into the sky with “eels and sea grass” in your hair and whatnot, Veirs’ songs have become looser musically, with the singer herself becoming more a part of the general flow as the Lost Souls slide into equal focus in the foreground. Thus does she stop singing half way into the five minute opener to allow a cello to ride and embellish the song’s melodic lines until its close; a quirk of composition, repeated often over the course of the album, that doubtless finds its roots in onstage soloing with whichever instrument seemed to fit the general mood best.
You can actually hear some muffled crowd noise here and there, along with some subdued stabs by other instruments that add a rougher, exploratory mood to proceedings. Furthermore, Veirs has ceased treating her song lyrics as the polished statue at the centre of a serious portrait, allowing herself up to embellish melodies with some na, na, nas and suchlike; that which would have seemed totally out of place on the stillness of the last album is welcoming, addictive, and carefree here.
Veirs pays for this relaxing of focus with songs that occasionally outstay the shelf life of their melodies, and even the frequent high points here rarely hit with the cold incision of her last album. She’s also still in the habit of penning the odd song that’s whimsical enough to mystify rather than intrigue the listener; or, as with the instrumental motif of “Parisian Dream”, really getting on their nerves. Plus points if you felt the impulse to point out that without gravity the only way to slow down is through friction.
I’m not sure if I would agree that this is Veirs’ best album yet, but even if it’s more consistently very good rather than sporadically startlingly excellent, there are lines to treasure in every song, and I would be a fool to deny that the damn thing’s growing on me. So if you are reading this in the company of someone else, my advice is to remove yourself from my envious presence and go pick up a copy; as was famously said of Milan Kundera’s Immortality, Year Of Meteors, this will make you smarter, more sensitive, and probably a better lover—and there are not too many albums you can say that about. If you’re alone and depressed, no one has taken Carbon Glacier away from you, and besides, Laura’s new found happiness is infectious rather than annoying, so stop moping and lose that excess gravity.
// Notes from the Road
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