Year of Meteors
n this age, no new aural combination seems a surprise, but we're not that far away from a time when the idea of folk and electronica as a mixed-media project may have drawn gasps from serious followers of either camp. As it turned out, like strings and heavy rock, the mix is a given once heard. Some folk music has a bad habit of dipping too close to campfire sing-alongs or breathy earnestness while electronica can slant toward the realm of an overheard airy breeze. The two mixed together, while not stormtrooping the airwaves, have at least provided a way to complement each other's strengths. Like contemporaries Beth Orton and Micah P. Hinson, Laura Veirs seems to draw upon the sublime. It's not all effortless: one thing all these artists have in common are at least a couple of straight-up dull tracks on their records. It is reaching, though.
Veirs's new release, Year of Meteors, follows the critical success of 2004's Carbon Glacier. In the same way that Carbon expanded upon its predecessor, the country-tinged Troubled By the Fire, so this new one keeps the ball rolling. Sounding less like a troubadour and more like a messy space queen, Veirs conjures up nature as seen through someone living inside of a bubble. Almost pastoral in her descriptions, Veirs speaks of "Lake swimming / Shucking free our deadened selves / Like snakes and corn do" ("Lake Swimming") and asks "Can you hear the cliffside's heart / Bubbling red and deep" ("Through the Glow") with an innocent's authority. She doesn't waste words and she's adept with the casual personal detail or metaphor ("And going away / Like a poem closed in a dresser drawer" from "Cool Water").
The problem, though, is the way that Veirs chooses to use her voice. With a not exactly exceptional (warm and quirkily inviting, sure), Veirs too often chooses odd accenting techniques, picking an off syllable in a word to emphasize. The effect is of someone who doesn't quite know how to sing yet (although there is enough evidence that she does know how to do so). What makes it worse, though, is that said syllable is often sung in Veirs's version of a shout (which is, admittedly, not really yelling, just comparatively so). It's something that’s been going on since the beginning of her career and it's time to sort it out. Basically, it can make the listener question her confidence and therefore her worth and then, honestly, why buy the record? If the singer doesn't believe in her voice, why should anyone else?
That issue is fading away, however. It's less on Year of Meteors than Carbon Glacier and so on, going backwards. Where this release stands out is in overall sound and songwriting. With the exceptions of "Cool Water" and "Galaxy," everything else on here is hypnotic. The opening track, "Fire Snakes," is one of the best and coolest songs so far this year. "Magnetized" manages to, in the details, make tattooing sound dark and ominous, something beyond the last-minute wall-picking it has become. Elsewhere, she sings of fires, horizons, and "Chinese junk" with the confidence of a bookworm who became a world traveler. The flaws may be her point, and they certainly don't subtract enough to qualify this as anything other than a very good record. Going forward, though, it's certainly possible Laura Veirs could achieve perfection.
Reviewed by: Jill LaBrack
Reviewed on: 2005-10-12