Laura Gibson: La Grande

A beautiful and emotive album as Laura Gibson invokes her home state of Oregon, and invites us to join her on a musical journey.

Laura Gibson

La Grande

US Label: Barsuk / City Slang
US Release Date: 2012-01-24
UK Release Date: 2012-01-09

Upon hearing Laura Gibson’s new album La Grande, I feel I should be strapped to an Oregon Wagon and made to pull it along the Oregon Trail, all 2,000 miles of it, while dispensing fulsome praise of both Laura and La Grande. I should be made to stop in La Grande (pronounced in the American West as “luh grand”), a town apparently just east of the Wallowa Valley, in order to genuflect and thank whatever higher authority comes to mind, for providing the inspiration to Gibson for both the music and title of this incredibly beautiful album. I will then head out, unburdened by my wagon, and seek out the places that the album conjures up in my mind. The reason for this show of contrition is that I had rather pigeonholed Laura as belonging to the long line of talented singer-songwriters that quietly go about their business, honing their craft but never really rising above the crowds.

I was wrong. And how.

I’ve not been to Oregon, I’ve barely been to America, but Gibson has painted such a picture through her music that listening to the album I’m transported to a place of wide expanses of fields, dense, dark forests cackling with the sound of camp fires, prairie huts, one street towns where all the men have beards and the town, en masse, get dressed up for the Sunday visit to the church before returning home for a sing-song around the family piano. A place where “Good night, John Boy” is echoed from house to house. A place of simply lived lives, of community and friendships, of hardship perhaps, but also a place at ease with itself and its position in American life.

Oh, and the album also conjures up images of Hawaii. But more of that later.

Gibson herself has described the town of La Grande as a place “people usually pass through on their way to somewhere else, but which contains a certain gravity, a curious energy.” Meant or not, this quote encapsulates the album. There is gravity on the album that sucks you into its orbit, refusing to let you go and a curious energy sparks through every song. Gibson, then, is our sun. Her music is bright, light, strong, life affirming and life giving. This is evidenced, immediately, in the opening song, the title track of the album. Pounding rockabilly drums, a twang of surf guitar (is this really a singer-songwriter album?) and then the voice comes in. Gentle, but confident, half sung, half spoken, it absolutely works against the rollicking instrumentation. It is the type of opening song that puts the listener in a bit of a quandary.

You don’t want the song to end and yet you can’t wait to hear if the rest of the album can possibly live up to such a start. And, secretly, you worry that it won’t and therefore you’ll feel let down and betrayed and slightly foolish for investing so much hope and excitement into someone you don’t know. Bloody hell Laura, it’s so unfair to ask so much of us with just one song. And then … “Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed” begins. Softly, Gibson coos, “Try as I may to carve my path / I cannot keep myself from stumbling back to you.” Melodic and soulful, the song makes you want to wrap your arms around her, hold her and tell her not to worry. Everything will be OK. “Lion/Lamb” continues in the same vein, the album now beginning to conjure up a score for an imaginary David Lynch film. Oboe or clarinet, I’m not sure which, plays over the same thick bass twang as “Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed”, with some tinkling piano thrown in for good measure, as Gibson’s voice rises and floats through the song. “Skin, Warming Skin” opens with a plaintive steel guitar, as the narrator (is it Gibson?) talks of love and how “Innocence can bow and kiss your forehead” before gently building to the climax, for both the song and the narrator, with the “ooh-oohs” brought about by the physical contact of “Only skin, warming skin”. Luscious is the word, and feeling, that comes to my mind.

“The Rushing Dark” brings back the film score theme with a track that would not be out of place in the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou and just like a scene in a Coen Brother film, the next song “Red Moon” takes a left turn into Hawaiian territory with a shimmying beat and talk of palm trees. We return to base with “Crow/Swallow”, with Gibson’s voice accompanied by a finger plucked, almost Latin sounding, acoustic guitar and more unidentified woodwind sounds. “The Fire” picks up the tempo again, with a honky tonk piano, foot stomping, hoe down dancing, rawkus groove, and I’m off swinging my poor wife round our suburban living room, crashing in to the furniture, in danger of waking the kids and annoying the neighbours. Luckily the last two tracks allow us to regain our decorum, and composure, as the pace slackens and Gibson closes the album on a more downbeat tempo, but retaining our attention with tales of “Cutting my knees on the razor wire / Just to bath in the river of desire”, on “Time is Not” and tales of late nights and curtains closing, “Feather Lungs”. Laura Gibson has written an album that moves this way and that, in and out of musical styles, singing about issues of personal longing. More than anything though, it is the gravitational pull of, and to, her Oregon roots that gives this album its heart. It is a truly beautiful album. Now, hitch me up, I’ve a wagon to pull and a message to spread.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.