There are several important reasons why Laura Veirs‘ latest release, Found Light, sounds so different from her preceding 12 records. Her husband produced the earlier dozen records and reportedly made all the arrangement decisions, including the final tracklist. The couple divorced a few years ago and the pandemic hit. Like many other musicians, the Portland, Oregon-based artist was left to her own devices. This newfound personal freedom, combined with societal restrictions because of COVID, allowed Veirs the time and inspiration to consider how to best express and present herself. The content of her songs changed. The 14 cuts on Found Light are more inquisitive and exploratory (and even experimental) than before. It also marks the first occasion that she co-produced her music.
Veirs always conveyed a certain intimacy in her songs, but the lyrics were often couched in vague terms. While she still writes poetically about her inner thoughts and feelings, she now expresses herself more explicitly. Consider such lines as “Strong hands touch you again / You get fucked and fuck and then” (“Time Will Show You”), “I’m turning my sword into a flower (“Sword Song”), and “Touch-starved palms on a cursive chest / Black socks on the only thing left” (“Naked Hymn”). The imagery is simultaneously imaginative and realistic.
Whether Veirs’ lyrics are autobiographical or confessional does not really matter. Thematically, the notion of individual freedom unites the various songs, whether they are about pawning one’s wedding ring (“Ring Song”) or the love of one’s children (“T & O”). The material seems drawn from real life, but only she knows. Veirs notes that what is true for a person today will change. Our memories don’t disappear as much transform us. “I thought loneliness my lot,” she proclaims in “Seaside Haiku” as she reflects on her identity. Veirs knows she’s not the person she thought she was, even though that being is still part of who she is.
The musical arrangements have sophisticated and exotic overtones, perhaps because of Shahzad Ismaily’s co-production and musical credits (electric bass, percussion, drums, synths, electric guitar, Moog). Veirs herself mostly strums nylon guitar in accompaniment. Some notable guest instrumentalists include Aaron Roche on trombone, Charlotte Greve on clarinet, and Sam Amidon on fiddle and banjo. Veirs even uses a field recording of the rain on “Eucalyptus” to accent the mood.
“Death is about the ending / And also the beginning” (“Sword Song”), Veirs reminds the listener. She sings metaphorically about the conclusion of relationships and phases of life rather than life itself. Veirs offers hope. That’s the Found Light of the title. It refers to both the person who finds the light (whose immanence is everywhere) and the light that finds a person (and enlightens them). Who or what finds whom or what doesn’t matter as there is such a thing as illumination.