Allegra Krieger’s Precious Thing appropriately sets the scene from the very beginning. The opening track, “Wake Me If I’m Asleep”, beings with a nearly two-minute instrumental section, gentle acoustic guitar fingerpicking mixed with light, groaning strings. That segment of relative calm is followed by striking lyric imagery: “The ambulance’s siren / Mixes with the violin / There’s a body on a bed / Rolling down the street.” Krieger continues with an almost mundane follow-up: “While looking out of my window / I call you up on the phone / Say I hope you get home all right / Wake me if I’m asleep.”
It’s unfair to Krieger to distill the essence of this wonderful album – her first since 2020’s The Joys of Forgetting – down to its first track. But “Wake Me If I’m Asleep” introduces Precious Thing so perfectly. On her Bandcamp page, Krieger says she “tries to capture fleeting moments in a world that is sick from itself.” At the same time, there is an utter simplicity to some of the things she is describing in her honest, deeply felt lyrics. Beneath a sparse, acoustic guitar backing in the song “Walking,” Krieger sings eloquently of chance encounters. “I don’t expect wonder or magic or rain / Maybe a smile at a stranger passing / And maybe one day I’ll see that stranger again.”
Krieger drove cross country to Marin County, California, to record Precious Thing, which was a brilliant strategy. It was produced by Luke Temple and features instrumentation from Jeremy Harris, Kalia Vandever, Rob Taylor, and Jacob Matheus. The overall sound reflects a classic, reflective West Coast folk aura. While The Joys of Forgetting had an almost claustrophobic (but delightful) full-band feel, Precious Thing really breathes. Strings, upright bass, organs, synths, and pedal steel all waft through the record as if carried along on a Pacific Ocean breeze. The atmosphere is early Joni Mitchell with a mysterious tint of Nick Drake. Even the low-key folk of “Taking It In” is dotted with oddly beautiful bits of cello, noise beds, and quirky chromatic guitar runs.
Krieger’s ability to elegantly weave the everyday routine of life and relationships, even those that may possibly be doomed to fail. “The Circumstance” begins by describing life and love in breathtaking, exquisite words: “There is a slight heavenly way / The smog and the light meet / To make morning slip through the windows of our bedroom.” She continues: “These days I wake lying at your side / Where I’m afraid of moving at all / Embracing the lack of control / The circumstance of loving you.” It’s hard to stop quoting Krieger at one or two lines – her lyrics convey a mood so perfectly. They’re like a book you don’t want to put down.
While some lyrics take on everyday subject matter, things occasionally get more obscure and unsettling: “I Drank Wine” brings up the religious connotations of fermented grapes, a subject that probably rings all too true for Krieger, who was raised in a staunchly Catholic home. “All of my life, I drank wine,” she sings. “Thought they were bottles of blood / Thought they were cleaning me up.” But on a less morbid note, Precious Thing also celebrates the joys of everyday routine, as on the lilting, ethereal title track, which Krieger describes as “wanting to fast forward to the end of the leaving, to move on, become lighter somehow.”
While Precious Thing contains its fair share of foreboding, it leans heavily on the beauty of life around us. After all, the cover photo is a black-and-white snapshot of a young Krieger cavorting in a swimming pool. It’s not an overtly sunny album, and it’s not a gloomy one – it captures real life through the lens of a truly gifted songwriter.