Life is somehow less exciting when things are simple. Although we might wish for simplicity much of the time, it is when things start to become complex and layered that we start to really enjoy life. In studying literature in high school, I was taught there are limited themes with which to work. One that was frequently employed was the idea of nature versus technology, the most famous example of which is the story of John Henry. What my literature teacher failed to mention is that themes are limitless, mixable and interchangeable. Take for instance Laura Veirs’ latest album, Year of Meteors.
Veirs is from Seattle and at times exhibits some of the signature local sounds as she and her band, the Tortured Souls, could interchange music with Death Cab for Cutie with ease. Veirs’ voice is like the west coast version of Suzanne Vega. True, Vega was born in Santa Monica, but as a young girl moved to Manhattan. Her songs are drenched in the Greenwich Village scene, full of tenements and diners. Veirs’ songs are instead soaked in the nature of the Pacific Northwest. Bears, volcanoes, snakes, lakes and clouds pepper the singer / songwriter’s landscapes, just as in her previously lauded album, Carbon Glacier.
The theme of nature versus technology is defied on Year of Meteors as Veirs mixes her acoustic guitar stylings (and even strings and upright bass at times) with electronic keyboard and processed sounds. All of this goes a long way in both resembling and depicting her version of home. Forests, mountain ranges, volcanoes and a wealth of green abound just as Microsoft, Amazon and RealNetworks find their home amidst it all. Seattle is a dichotomy of ideas to be sure, yet heads are rarely butted, save for perhaps on the issue of the monorail. While technologies clash on Year of Meteors, Veirs’ singing and lyrics are consistent, and consistently wonderful.
“Fire Snakes” kicks the album off with volcanic imagery as her voice wavers back and forth between resembling Vega and Sinéad O’Connor. “Secret Someones” is one of the tracks that one can imagine voiced by Ben Gibbard, and it would be fun to imagine it as a duet between the two. “Magnetized” is true poetry, her lyrics having faint reference to another famous Seattle band: “furnaces burn everlasting black tattoos of you onto me.” “Parisian Dream” goes against the pop song standard by eschewing a chorus and is the better for it. “Through the Glow” and its o-o-o-o-o vocally layered chant is hypnotic and calming. “Cool Water” is one of the poppiest songs on the album, with some of its most introspective lyrics. I can’t help but think of a similar and similarly titled song, “Cold Water” by Damien Rice. The best song on the album is the one I heard first on NPR, “Galaxies.” One of the most straightforward tracks, it is at once accessible and direct while being incredibly symbolic. Like much of Shakespeare’s sonnets, it is complex in its simplicity, speaking of what happens when she hears her lover sing, when she and he dance, and finally when they kiss.
Laura Veirs is an artist that, with the release of Year of Meteors, could end up bridging the gap between many genres and styles, just as she bridges the gap between nature and science. Fans of both indie music like Death Cab (although I guess we can’t say that anymore) and popular singer / songwriters like Norah Jones will embrace Veirs. I, as well, who like tougher female artists like Liz Phair and P.J. Harvey, love this album, yet so will my wife who prefers the more feminine stylings of Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan. Laura Veirs, while writing and singing about the dichotomy of her world, is a paradox herself. She can straddle lines of styles and genres, yet puts forth one of the most solid and consistent albums this year. Year of Meteors is one of the few albums I can unhesitatingly recommend to everyone.
Suzanne Vega- 99.9° F
Death Cab for Cutie- The Photo Album
Sinéad O’Connor- The Lion and the Cobra