Music

Letitia VanSant's 'Circadian' Is a Contemplative Indie Folk Opus (premiere) (album stream)

Photo: Alyssa Stokes / Courtesy of IVPR

With Circadian, indie folk artist Letitia VanSant finds the balance between compassion and fury in communicating her reflections on the world today.

A whole host of worldly reflections swells beneath the fabric of Letitia VanSant's Circadian, releasing tomorrow, 21 February. After emerging onto the Americana scene as a notable, rising voice with her debut album, Gut It to the Studs, the Baltimore singer-songwriter is making a new mark with her sophomore album. Working alongside producer Neilson Hubbard (Caroline Spence, Mary Gauthier), VanSant's Circadian radiantly mirrors her impassioned heart. Delicately and attentively crafted, each song feels like an extension of the crystalline, indie folk-fueled leaf that she turns with her new album. The songs possess a vividness and might that begets artists of her caliber, and they astonish with their forward-moving, straight-shooting direction.

Like other folk greats, VanSant doesn't shy away from politics. Circadian opens with a powerful statement; "You Can't Put My Fire Out" was written by VanSant during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. "I am a survivor of sexual violence from years ago," she says. "It impacted my self-esteem and what I felt like I was capable of in the world. I felt a lot smaller. This song came out of reclaiming my narrative and sense of self-worth."

She goes on to examine the effects that toxic masculinity have on their practitioners in "Tin Man", inspired by listening to an episode of NPR's The Hidden Brain called "The Lonely American Man". She states, "It rang so true that I had to pull over my car because I was crying so hard. Our culture makes it very difficult for men to be emotionally vulnerable. I don't know what it's like to be a man, but I know what it is to be a person who loves one and wants to connect."

Regarding "Most of Our Dreams Don't Come True", VanSant explains, "My generation has gotten so much messaging to reach for the stars and keep trying at all costs. But I think that notion can be taken to a desperate, unhealthy extreme that can leave people profoundly unhappy. There's a time to let things shift, let things go. Allowing ourselves to grieve old dreams can make space to discover new ones."

Inspired by her readings on light pollution, VanSant muses on the titular "Circadian", "The solution is to turn out some of the lights. The challenges of the world feel big and complicated, but I take solace in the idea that some of the answers are to make things simpler."

Elsewhere, "Something Real" is based on the death of Jimmy LaFave. She says, "I never met him, but hearing people sing his songs around the campfire, it was clear that his energy was still moving through the world. I had this moment when my clouds of cynicism parted, and I was overcome with awe."

The legacy of VanSant's father informs the album's final track, "Rising Tide". A Vietnam veteran, he was diagnosed with lung cancer following exposure to Agent Orange. The artist's reflections on the song are cutting, harrowing in its frankness towards the atrocities committed during the war. Her father has thankfully since recovered and is cancer-free.

The songs of which Circadian are comprised are deeply personal and worldly all at once. They reflect a vision of the world as it is, warts and all, informed by VanSant's role as an artistic mind and an activist in a time of division. Circadian rhythms are the natural cycles that occur between wakefulness and rest. The songs of which VanSant's latest album are comprised attest to this idea of balance, sifting between compassion and fury.

Circadian is due to release on 21 February.

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