Sound drops like rain, slow and languid; you can trace the paths of the water in the air, construct mansions of crystal and glass, glowing with the half-light of rain splashing off hard surfaces. Laura Veirs is a folk artist, but these pieces lean far more into the constructed deliberateness of what that phrase can mean, eschewing the strumming yearning sensibilities we might associate with the term with something cleaner. The elaborations of form by current artists like Mary Lattimore feel present over Veirs’ new record Found Light, and not just because of the beautifully aimless harp playing shimmering across its opening track. There’s a shared sensibility of controlled chaos, the crafted architecture meant to look like an exploded building and the lucky happenstance where all the pieces fall together like a self-assembling puzzle. Veirs has been in the game much longer than Lattimore, and the similarities are almost certainly coincidental rather than deliberate, but it demonstrates how Veirs’ sonic and compositional sensibilities are far from frozen in the early-to-mid 2000s baroque folk boom.
Despite presenting itself by cover art as a strident alt-rock leaning record, seemingly indebted to the power and presence of artists like peak Liz Phair, Found Light is instead a much more stately and elegant record with greater sonic similarity to art rock than fuzzed out and gleefully sloppy rock records. Imagine the immaculate highland folk of Dick Guaghan cut through with the cleanliness of a contemporary math rock record. But despite the highly constructed and precise note placements, the production which feels like it fully surrounds the trembling strings rendered in full 3D rather than a trebly flatness, these are not unapproachable or abstract pieces. There is a strong melodic bent, an immediate sense of beauty. That she once shared a record label that featured figures like Steve Reich, John Adams and John Zorn makes an amount of sense on hearing these pieces; while they do not reach into the realms of the avant-garde like those composers, there is a similar sentiment of beauty married to a mature discipline. Veirs isn’t a newcomer and doesn’t play like it either, to all of our benefit.
There are at times hints of jazz, bossa nova, distant genetic tropicália, but deeply digested. These inflections are not deployed as kitsch, ways to justify or enliven an artist by pilfering from languages not their own, but instead what can comfortably be termed as the end result of long periods of wide listening. They come in gentle movements, an adjustment of rhythm or a light swing to the vocal or certain chord voicings on the acoustic guitar, feeling as justified by what came before as how they resolve back to the art folk interior that comes after. It’s the kind of move only a mature player can make, indicating unintentionally at the wideness of the musical world through what become reflexive motions, allowing one’s work to not feel insular and ignorant of the world but instead as assured and comfortable in its atomic identity as it is in the ecosystem it emerges from. As someone who listens to a hell of a lot of heavy metal, I can speak comfortably about how sometimes rather insular aesthetic worlds can sometimes make you feel claustrophobic, like you are accidentally letting the world slip by and auto-alienating yourself. Found Light sidesteps this issue free from anxiety.
This casualness, that sense of the practice of craft long-learned, works against Found Light in an incidental way. The songs, though well-crafted, sometimes fail to rise above satisfaction, failing to imprint themselves deeply. There is no particular fault and, isolated, they’re all quite charming. This is an issue, granted, that only time can reveal as serious or not; some records feel half-present at first but persist in memory over long periods of time. But as it stands now, these are admirably crafted songs in a tender arrangement that is somewhat missing that fateful animating spark that underscores the why of a record, that core sentiment that drives it like a nail into our hearts. May it one day be revealed.
Label: Raven Marching Band
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.