It’s called “listening to Laura Gibson’s new album,” because this eerie, simple singer from Portland is everything the plastic-lipped Hollywood pop/sadcore (note: these are tags that have been following Ms. Del Ray around every corner, but what the heck do they mean?) isn’t, and then some.
For one thing, Gibson knows how to gently arrange the individual syllables in a lyric, unlike LDR, who pummels them into place with a yelp that’s too annoying for pop and too soft for punk. “Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed” is probably the most singularly poetic song on “La Grande,” Gibson’s third record (first on indie institution Barsuk), and she beautifully stretches and squashes the words into the song’s measure. Sample lyric: “For love has got you hanging on my hips / Like a worn-out dress with my skin showing through.”
The whole thing hinges on way she utters “worn,” and she stretches the lyric ever so subtly, as to make her voice actually sound worn-out. Masterful.
With “La Grande,” we have another example of a talented songwriter with a distinct voice employing a mini-orchestra (see: Other Lives, Sufjan Stevens, Lost in the Trees) to record beautifully lyrical songs that mostly skew pastoral. Very nice, rumbling timpani follow along for most the record, anchoring some pretty, flighty melodies on “Lion/Lamb.”
“The Fire” stands out as the album’s single, introduced by shaky tambourine and capped with the disc’s most explosive use of organ. While Gibson’s voice isn’t really suited to get the listener excited, it’s still the centerpiece, which limits the music’s potential for being really catchy and outstandingly memorable.
The fourth track, “Skin, Warming Skin,” picks up the pace a little bit, with an arrangement that groans and grows larger, eventually climaxing at the end. It’s a moment of excitement on a fairly short album (36 minutes — just about perfect for a folk/trad-type recording, I think) that doesn’t boast many. Not that “La Grande” really needs to; its simple aural beauty makes its case.
“The Rushing Dark” feels kinda like an old spiritual, and not just because it sounds like its coming through a phonograph. Those swaying background vocals make for something you’d have expected Destiny’s Child to be raised on, not some white girl from the northwest.
Carefully and lovingly arranged around Gibson’s petite, pretty voice, this album’s a folk winner that doesn’t quite reach to the upper-echelon of recently recorded female folk LPs, but it’s certainly quite near.