Lissie 2022
Photo: Lili Peper / Courtesy of Girlie Action Media

Lissie Finds Renewal on ‘Carving Canyons’

Lissie’s country-inflected Carving Canyons considers who she is, looking back to childhood but also realizing that she can help shape a positive future.

Carving Canyons
16 September 2022

Indie-folk singer Lissie has never rushed her albums. Her fifth proper studio release, Carving Canyons, uses that reflection to good effect. The album’s context – the loneliness at the center of the pandemic – feels almost behind the times (partly because of the surfeit of covid-based releases over the past few years). Still, Lissie primarily uses the setting to look at the fallout from a breakup that occurred early in the era. The time given to writing and recording Carving Canyons allowed Lissie full time to process, writing lyrics that offer transparency without frantic confessing, eventually leading to a possible way out of the crisis.

Carving Canyons opens with clarity. On “Unravel”, Lissie is beginning the experience the song’s title suggests. Carving Canyons doesn’t quite function as a narrative song cycle, but the beginning of the record feels like the beginning of a romantic breakdown, a mix of hurt, surprise, and confusion. The blend of feelings manifests as a controlled, orderly number that gradually builds as the moment’s gravity becomes apparent. “Sad”, which focuses more on anger, reacts to the end of the relationship. It’s a credit to Lissie’s vocal skill that she can make the lines “Hope you feel sad, hope you feel bad / I hope you’re sad” effective.

These various expressions come in a slightly country-inflected package. Lisse could have fit in with 1970s singer-songwriters or with modern pop. She recorded the album in Nashville, working with writers like Natalie Hemby, but she brings a fair bit of California to her sound as if one of the canyons she carves might be Laurel. The Stevie Nicks comparisons come easily, and “Night Moves” owes too much to Fleetwood Mac (though it’s quite good, whether it’s a knockoff or not).

The transition from “Night Moves” to “Flowers” marks an emotional pivot, too. The latter song gives Lissie liberty for complicated feelings, moving on without having to deny or question the past. The flowers take on different meanings from verse to verse as Lissie approaches the history of the relationship from different angles. In a critical moment, she realizes she “forgot I could grow outside the garden of you”. The song offers much-needed catharsis through its intelligent lyrics. It also unlocks new layers of self-reflection, as on the title track, where Lissie considers the way that destructive experiences can be formative (as in the creation of a canyon).

With those experiences in mind and continued self-reflection, Lissie can pursue a way forward over the album’s final three songs. She considers who she is at her most essential, looking back to childhood but also realizing that she can help shape a positive future. Despite the recent heartbreak, the next stage of life could be exciting. “Midnight” closes Carving Canyons with tempered optimism. The album doesn’t suggest that life (or love) will be easy but that it can involve renewal. It’s a good place for Lissie and Carving Canyons to move at the record’s close.

RATING 7 / 10