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Laura Stevenson - Laura Stevenson (Album Review)

Tuesday, 10 August 2021 Written by Huw Baines

The life of a singer-songwriter can be punishing, with listeners expecting to be served neatly-appointed slices of your inner workings in a timely fashion. Your pain, your trauma, becomes shared history. Laura Stevenson has never shied away from this exchange, writing with great specificity and sensitivity about domestic abuse, self-harm and depression in a discography that now comprises six LPs, but on ‘Laura Stevenson’ she has pulled down a shade, cutting out a direct line of sight.

Here, Stevenson discusses a harrowing experience at a remove: it happened to someone close to her, and her handling of the details is deliberately opaque. Any logline for her music, though, would also have to acknowledge the importance of melody and malleability, two traits that this self-titled effort relies on heavily, slotting in alongside earlier works thanks to the quality of writing and performances.

Up against the almost balletic high points of 2019’s ‘The Big Freeze’ and the fuzzy power-pop of its predecessor ‘Cocksure’,  these songs are folksier, weathered, and worn in. There are hints of Neil Young here, and Wilco, and latter day Neko Case, with Stevenson’s career-spanning desire to change things up—from the ornate twee-pop of ‘Sit Resist’ through the brittle ‘Wheel’ and her regular collaborations with Jeff Rosenstock—ensuring that her voice is enough to anchor things.

The looseness of certain tracks is hard won because the writing is immaculate. It’s not a simple task to make hooks as good as these feel easy and naturalistic, but in Sandstorm’s perfectly judged fuzz and the intertwining guitar and organ lines at the heart of Continental Divide, Stevenson makes it look that way. When she takes up the chorus in the latter it’s a truly fabulous moment of release. The opener, State, provokes a similarly visceral response in a more acidic manner, almost splitting at the seams as Stevenson rifles through disquieting imagery before howling: “It keeps me alive. It's easier, right?”

It is pat to suggest that an artist should be more popular—insulting, even, given that every independent record must swim upstream—but it’s increasingly difficult to see what more Stevenson could do to win more listeners to her side. ‘Laura Stevenson’ is another spotless entry in a fantastic catalogue. Maybe that’ll have to be enough.


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