Music Reviews
La Grande

Laura Gibson La Grande

(Barsuk Records) Rating - 8/10

Laura Gibson was part of a wave of folk singers that flooded onto the wider music scene in around 2007, the biggest explosion of folk since the early seventies boom in California. The acts of her generation have all gone on to either make stunning natural albums or sell their songs to advertising companies. Thankfully, Laura Gibson is more towards the former.

Everything about La Grande screams delicacy. Well, more like it whispers delicacy. The guitars are subtle and unobtrusive, acting as the perfect foil for her voice. Laura Gibson’s vocals murmur in a lullaby like style. She sings like Joanna Newsom with all the annoying warbling high pitched screeches taken out, with hints of Beth Gibbons at Portishead’s most tender moments. At times this is a problem as the many heartfelt lyrics have a tendency to disappear into mutters and you’re left thinking “I don’t know what she just sang but I’m sure it was lovely”. As you listen, you can easily picture a campfire in a forest, stars in the sky and Laura Gibson, guitar cradled in her arms, mumbling her way through an upbeat breezy folk song that implies some inner sadness while at the same time being entirely optimistic and happy. I’m getting carried away here...

However, it’s too easy to review this album by talking about the nature that so clearly surrounds La Grande. Obviously the environment has had an effect on this album but... there’s more to it than that. This record occupies the same territory as Lambchop’s Is a Woman, an album that exudes an aura of mystique about its most emotional moments. Everyone that listens to La Grande should feel some sort of connection to the lyrics or the sound of the piano and guitar and drums but they’ll never quite know why. “Can we forget about the truth” is one of those lines that have such a stark beauty; it resonates so strongly with so much vagueness. The best lyricists are capable of communicating a different emotion to each listener and offering some entirely open take on a feeling that is as much about the musician’s feelings as it is about the listener’s.

The issue that this album has is in the more grandiose moments of instrumentation, the breaks from the tranquility. The opener La Grande has a foot stomping drum beat and quivering pianos, it’s perfectly fine as a song but when put alongside the glorious Milk Heavy, Pollen Eyed or the gorgeous Time Is Not it fades away to filler; the beauty of the standout tracks is such that anything different isn’t really wanted. It’s an odd thing to wish of an album but some of the tracks sound so perfect that you find yourself longing for the other tracks to sound the same; you want the same song ten times.

Of all the highlights, Crow/Swallow is the best. Opening with the quietest acoustic guitars possible, it’s one of the most tender songs that you’re likely to hear all year. Trumpets whisper away as if instructed to play in a library and an occasional piano chord dips in and out. It’s got that same softness as Sisters of Mercy by Leonard Cohen, the whispers of a person all alone, just thinking. To me, it’s a song about how short our life actually is. Or about coming to grips with your adult self and the expectations of those around you. Or about being happy and confident in your own decisions. Or all three. That’s the tender beauty of La Grande, I don’t have the slightest clue what any of it means. The phrase “you get out what you put in” suits this album and Laura Gibson’s style so well, it’s entirely about your rapport with the sounds and the songs and the singer.

I just wish it was more samey.