Abigail Lapell 2024
Photo: Jen Squires / Girlie Action Media

Abigail Lapell’s ‘Anniversary’ Is Mournful and Celebratory

Abigail Lapell navigates space somewhere between folk, classic country, and lullabies for songs that harness a productive disquiet on Anniversary.

Abigail Lapell
Outside Music
10 May 2024

Before saying anything else about Anniversary, Canadian singer-songwriter Abigail Lapell‘s sixth full-length release, it’s worth noting how excellent a guitarist she is. Her albums reveal her understated command and melodic inventiveness, even as her playing is at the service of her songs. But on this latest record, she sneaks in a bit of clotted distortion, allowing a sneaky edge to permeate many of the songs. “Rattlesnake” is one fantastic example of her tone. The vocal line follows the guitar, while feet stomp the rhythm and her own overdubbed voice plays harmony, her various voices slithering past each other. But her guitar, with just the right touch of snarl, drives this 21st-century folk ballad.

Lapell navigates space somewhere between folk, classic country, and lullabies for songs that harness a productive disquiet. There are hints of Brigid Mae Powers, especially in the not-quite honky tonk of “Blue Blaze”, a song mourning the loss of a lover, a death in the family, or perhaps both. Or then again, maybe neither. “A sad song lasts a whole life long / When the pleasure of love is so brief,” she assures us all.

Anniversary’s title is purposely ambiguous and might refer to Lapell’s recently turning 40 or perhaps the 15th anniversary of her father’s death. We don’t need to know what’s behind songs such as “Someone (Like You)”, with its references to isolation and not being afraid of death. Whoever she’s singing about sounds like a keeper if only they’d been willing or able to be kept. All the while, she rocks back and forth between two chords with that welcome distortion as an unsettling undercurrent.

“Flowers in My Hair” is one of several songs that employ fellow Ontarians, Great Lake Swimmers. But here, their claps, boot stomps, and harmony vocals are the only instrumentation, the track sounding at once like a 200-year-old ballad and an even older church hymn. That most of this record was recorded at St Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, works to the song’s advantage, as you can hear the room as another instrument. It’s also the most carefree track here as well, with the chanted claim of “I don’t have a thing to do but lay all day in the sun with you.”

Abigail Lapell’s guitar, rusty and gnarled as old barbed wire, drives “Wait Up”, a song that owns up about a relationship where both parties were equally destructive but got off on the drama. It’s the closest the record comes to something Neil Young and Crazy Horse might have hammered away at in a barn for hours. It’s minimal, loose, and more than a little proud of itself.

Anniversary contains similarities with Lapell’s other albums. The wistful ballads, the folk-adjacent melodies, and the dauntless, sumptuous vocals caressing everything she touches are all here. But there’s a slight uptick in tension, captured in her electric guitar tone, which suggests she’s arrived at an awareness she’s stuck with forever. It’s an honest acknowledgment some of us spend our entire lives trying to avoid.

RATING 7 / 10