Release Date: Aug 20, 2013
Record label: Raven Marching Band Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Laura Veirs's ninth album, Warp & Weft, makes good on its title, a reference to the over/under thread structure of traditional loom weaving. The album combines her previous output's folk-pop touch with rootsy rock n' roll, all of it cushioned by orchestral flourishes and driven by powerful lyrics about motherhood, war, and the relationship between love and fear. Veirs, who studied geology and Mandarin in college, has long mined the strangeness of the natural world in her lyrics, combining keen observation with a fabulist sensibility.
After over a decade of exquisite music-making, Laura Veirs is in rarified air. Few artists can boast a back catalogue of such fluidity and quality, whose new songs inherit good regard before first hearing, class assured by their creator’s own high standards. All of this creates the unfair potential for anticlimax – but Veirs accords much respect to her listener too.
Portland, Oregon singer-songwriter Laura Veirs named her ninth album after a knitting term, Warp and Weft, because she considers the disc a tapestry of different elements. It is true that Veirs incorporates a diversity of sounds, subjects, and motifs on the record. There is everything from a train roaring down the tracks to a bicycle bell gently ringing; a 30-second instrumental tune about ghosts to a lyrical one about the founding fathers of America rolling in their graves because of what the country has become; quiet (mostly-) acoustic musings on dancing, dreams, and memories as well as Asian inflected avant-garde jazz riffs.
After the hushed traditional folk of July Flame, her instrumental score to the romantic comedy Hello I Must Be Going and the charming album of children’s songs Tumble Bee, Laura Veirs‘ ninth studio album Warp & Weft sees a return to her Americana roots. Not that she ever really departed from them of course – over the last 14 years, she’s carved something of a well-respected niche for herself, together with the likes of Neko Case and The Decemberists, as a purveyor of high quality rootsy American folk-rock. Both Case and members of The Decemberists, together with Jim James of My Morning Jacket and kd lang, all appear on Warp & Weft, and while it’s no great departure to her previous work, it has a warm, comforting tone that will delight both long-term fans and new disciples alike.
At first, Warp and Weft doesn’t seem all that different from Laura Veirs’ past releases. From the first strums of the guitar, it’s clearly a Laura Veirs record. Her melodic senses are still dead-on—fluctuating from gentle to vibrant at a moment’s notice while her ever-soothing voice is as strong as can be. Displaying more of her raucous side, Warp and Weft is filled with tracks that easily find themselves among the best of her impressive catalog and manage to exceed expectations.
Laura Veirs' music is focused on her voice, lyrics, and guitar, but to call her simply a singer/songwriter misses the mark. It captures the pick-up-and-play directness of her songwriting while leaving out a whole other dimension: the formal distance and art-music aesthetics she brings to her albums. It's not that Veirs' songs-- where vestiges of jazz and blues enrich a sparse, rocky soil of folk and country-- couldn't be beat out on an acoustic guitar at a coffeehouse.
After the sparse acoustic approach of 2010's July Flame and Tumble Bee: Laura Veirs Sings Folk Songs for Children in 2011, singer/songwriter Laura Veirs returns to her electric guitar on Warp & Weft. She delivers a dozen new songs that wind through skillfully textured, slightly psychedelicized rock, pop, and Americana, covering everything from the fears and joys of motherhood -- she had her second child in 2012 -- to disillusionment to homages to heroes to gratitude and spiritual awareness. Produced by husband Tucker Martine, the pair enlist an all-star cast that includes drummer Brian Blade, My Morning Jacket, k.d.
Considering she was eight months pregnant during its recording, you might expect Laura Veirs’ ninth album to continue in the vein of its predecessor, 2011’s childlike ‘Tumble Bee’. Instead, Veirs seems more concerned about the world she’s bringing her child into: “How can it be so cold out here in America? Everybody’s packing heat in America”, she wonders on (you guessed it) ‘America’. Yet there are also fables of inspiration to be found in the shape of Alice Coltrane (‘That Alice’) and the painter Howard Finster (‘Finster Saw The Angels’).
Warp & Weft marks Laura Veirs' return to original songwriting after the release of Tumble Bee - an album of children's song covers - and Hello I Must Be Going - a delightfully instrumental movie soundtrack. Her 2009 release July Flame solidified her as a modern folk darling; executing gorgeous tales inspired by nature, love and loss in an effortless and old-timey fashion. This latest release sees her returning to her rockier, Saltbreakers era, enlisting the help of a full band, broader production and an overall bigger sound.
Warp & Weft was conceived while Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter Laura Veirs was pregnant with her second child. The ninth studio album in a productive career sees Veirs juggling the contentment of motherhood with preoccupations of fear and tragedy. “I’m haunted by the idea that something terrible could happen to my kids but that fear pushes me to embrace the moment,” Veirs explained in an accompanying press release, revealing the dichotomy of fear and love heard throughout.
Laura Veirs isn’t your typically wispy singer/songwriter type. While it’s true she possesses the reticent vocal style of a forlorn folkie, her dramatic arrangements — courtesy of her hubby and veteran Portland producer Tucker Martine (who counts The Decemberists, R.E.M., My Morning Jacket, Beth Orton, Neko Case, and Mudhoney among his credits) — are anything but reserved. What they are, in fact, is a manic mélange of orchestrated ambiance, psychedelic suggestion and other avant-garde inclinations, one which takes these tunes to a higher level where repeated encounters are all but essential.
Despite the best sources claiming she hails from Portland, Oregon, from the sound of ‘Warp & Weft’ Laura Veirs could just have easily suffered through the totally-not-climate-change-related tropical summer the British isles have just sweated their way through. Her ninth LP is in no hurry, and the gentle alt-folk arrangements have a sunstroke fragility to them. It’s a pretty good time to be in the folk game, what with all these blokes in tweed farting around with their banjos and stuff.