Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Laura Veirs - Saltbreakers

Laura Veirs
Saltbreakers (Nonesuch, 2007)
Grade: B

Download: Laura Veirs - "Don't Lose Yourself"

Laura Veirs, the former Minnesota resident whose tour with Sufjan Stevens and appearance on the Decemberists' Crane Wife made her smart-folk royalty, is confusing the hell out of me. On her latest, I don't know if she's supposed to be the gentle folkstress we've all come to know, Emily Haines or the dude from the Shins' name is.

Saltbreakers, Veirs' fifth studio album hit shelves earlier this month. Most of the album is really good. Veirs' voice and lyrics lend themselves very well to mellow folk. On this album, she embraces the ocean, framing most of her intensely personal lyrics in maritime metaphors. While such metaphors are her strong suit, they also cause her to get written off as just another lit-folk act. For the most part, the high seas treat Veirs very well, but about halfway through the album, it's easy to start feeling seasick.

The first five tracks on the record are really good. I especially like the bizarre vocal articulations on "Drink Deep." I think they fit nicely in with the whole freak folk thing without getting too gimmicky. And "Drink Deep" is followed up by "Wandering Kind," which blends indietronica with more recognizable Veirs songwriting. It's a song that's upbeat while still maintaining a heavy folk feeling.

"Nightengale" marks where the album starts to fall apart – or, alternatively, the listener starts to fall asleep. It's just a little too "New Slang"-cum-Metric On "Phantom Mountain," the whole watered down New Wave/Metric thing pops up again. I understand and respect the desire not to be typecast, but invading someone else's niche – especially one that has been so played out over the past couple of years – really isn't the way to do it. After all, innovation and originality in the face of being written off as a stale is what gave us Achtung Baby and Monster. If Veirs was a little more willing to step off both the path that she has beaten and the path beaten by other female-fronted acts, this record could have been a lot more fun.

Saltbreakers is, overall, a pleasant record to sit down and listen to. If you aren't paying close attention, most of the flaws just kind of fade into the background. But if you give it more time and attention, the lack of originality and ocean-overload are enough to cause discerning folk listeners to shelve the record as study music.

(April Wright)



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