Release Date: Jan 24, 2012
Record label: Barsuk
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Upon hearing Laura Gibson’s new album La Grande, I feel I should be strapped to an Oregon Wagon and made to pull it along the Oregon Trail, all 2,000 miles of it, while dispensing fulsome praise of both Laura and La Grande. I should be made to stop in La Grande (pronounced in the American West as “luh grand”), a town apparently just east of the Wallowa Valley, in order to genuflect and thank whatever higher authority comes to mind, for providing the inspiration to Gibson for both the music and title of this incredibly beautiful album. I will then head out, unburdened by my wagon, and seek out the places that the album conjures up in my mind.
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.
Based in Portland, Oregon – a Stateside Shangri-la of yummy mummies who craft their own fixed-gear bicycles out of tampon strings and tofu-based meat substitutes – [a]Laura Gibson[/a] has created an album that her holier-than-thou hipster neighbours will devour, but which also transcends said hordes of ironic bobble-hat wearers. Squeaking with the glamour of a rusty gramophone, ‘[b]The Rushing Dark[/b]’ flashes with delicate splendour and, alongside ‘[b]Time Is Not[/b]’, evokes moonlit, cobbled Parisian streets and carafes of elderflower wine. Sure, there are flashes of folk in the mix, but this is far removed from [a]Laura Marling[/a]’s weighty world-weariness.
Simple suits Laura Gibson. The Oregonian songstress knows the power a few well-chosen words and clear images can carry-- all the better when complemented with an economy of instrumentation-- and she put this know-how to good use on her two previous solo outings, 2006's If You Come to Greet Me and 2009's Beasts of Seasons. Those records also benefited from their intimacy and frankness, both embodied in Gibson's voice.
It’s no mystery—you don’t name your new album La Grande unless you plan on expanding your sonic palette. Nor do you enlist a virtual who’s who of veteran overdub buddies (The Dodos, Calexico’s Joey Burns, two Decemberists). On her first handful of releases, Oregon-based folkie Laura Gibson has made a career out of barely playing, with a lonesome country-jazz voice that floats softly, like a ghost through a windowpane.
With the completion of Portland-based Laura Gibson’s La Grande, we are a fair few records into her recording career. While it would be disingenuous to say that we got what we expected, the newest release is one which again demonstrates and accentuates its creator’s talent. The previous full-length, 2009’s Beasts of Seasons, was forlorn in nature, punctured with moments of melancholy and wistfulness – much due to the subject matter – but La Grande is bolder and more orchestrated in both senses of the word.
Modern dustbowl crooner Laura Gibson named her third studio album after a northeastern Oregon town that "people usually pass through on their way to somewhere else, but which contains a certain gravity, a curious energy. " It's a fitting sentiment as the same could be said about Gibson's music, a hodgepodge of retro Americana, dusty dirt-road folk, and cinematic, sepia-toned blues. Opening with the sprawling title cut, a dark, open-road anthem that sounds like Calexico fronted by Jolie Holland, the ten-track La Grande proceeds to pile on the atmosphere, offering up solid, pump organ-led, south-of-the-border-kissed balladry ("Red Moon") and galloping future public radio segues ("Skin, Warming Skin") with great aplomb.
La Grande sees Portland, OR folksinger Laura Gibson keeping faith with her muse– honed over four studio albums– yet in a more expansive mood. There is still room for otherworldly ballads but also greater variety in tempos, song styles, and instrumentation. Some effects recall her 2010 meditative collaboration with Ethan Rose, Bridge Carols, in their delicate, soft, repetitive layers, but these are equaled by a newfound stridency.
Named after a scenic town in Oregon, and created within a makeshift trailer, ‘La Grande’ is where a more ambitious Laura Gibson expands 2009’s ‘Beast Of Seasons’ melancholic and soothing folk song. The tame and antique acoustic trickles of ‘Crow/Swallow’ and ‘Feather Lungs’ snuggle neatly in the crevices of Gibson’s previous long player, but elsewhere everything’s scaled up as the sometimes Decemberists member conjures images of a vast, roaming wilderness. The primal percussion of the opening title track sparks a stirring start, spectrally joined by guitar strokes evoking Ennio Morricone’s spirit.
This gem of a long-player deserves all the plaudits that will hopefully meet its release. James Skinner 2012 A picturesque town in northeast Oregon, La Grande was named by a French settler in honour of its natural beauty, and is where Laura Gibson found inspiration for her latest album. She describes it as being in possession of "a certain gravity, a curious energy" – something equally applicable to the record itself, which builds on the sparse, haunting folk of 2009’s Beasts of Seasons and winds up certainly stranger but no less engaging for it.
2011 saw a lot of music gone glutinous, artists gravitating together into some essentialness of their genre; we had a lot of white girls rubbing up against beatboxes, a lot of blubby dubby wubbing widdle wunderkinder, a lot of gassy synthpop. And as for folk: well, that's always been a bit incestuous, hasn't it? This being so, when you see yet another befringed American woman cresting over the horizon with acoustic guitar held aloft, it is not abnormal to go indoors and put the bolt on. By all indicators Gibson is one of them: Northwestern, hop-a-long fingering, the Feist-like honks and downy alveolars of her vocals.