I can't believe it's almost May. I miss east coast springs. It's been spring since January here in the Bay Area, and it pretty much stays spring year round. Not that I'm complaining, I miss complaining about the weather. It's just one thing to take out of the equation- oh yeah, today it was 80 degrees and sunny. I spent the day at Stinson Beach getting a tan...
Laura Veirs- Saltbreakers, (Nonesuch Records, released 4-10)
So I'm listening to this album's opening track, Pink Light, which starts off with the line: "Sorry I was cruel, I was protecting myself..." signaling the cathartic, if not classic, "everyone's got to write one" patented break-up record. Coming back with a much more focused and mature sound here, Miss Veirs takes on producer-extraordinaire-slash-sought after session drummer Tucker Martine, as Martine is fresh off of producing The Decemberists' The Crane Wife, my 2006 Album of the Year. Being blessed with a full-on band for the first time, Miss Veirs takes much more time in her wonderful lyric writing and focuses less on music, leaving it up to the boys to hash out her ideas this time. And the formula clicks beautifully (and at times a bit awkwardly, but that's her plan now, isn't it?) Her stark and sometimes sterile approach, presaged by that opening line and the eventual denouement solved by the closing line, "...we can do some wrecking here and find something to love in this broken place."
Saltbreakers, the term for big, foamy waves, has stocked Veirs' memory of a lost love, and this album is chock full of the imagery of the mighty Pacific; of ocean waves pummeling the shores at night, the flight of lost seabirds and the blue blues of water and what may lie beneath it. It's also the title track, falling in the middle of the album, serving to split it up nicely- the first half is the good-bye to the last life, the second half is the "hello" to the new one. The first half of the album is rife with imagery of water, the second half, a depature to land. Not that Miss Veirs doesn't revisit the ocean in the second half of the record (her ode to the mer-man who caught her heart in Cast A Hook is quite the opposite of a "land" song, but Phantom Mountain seems to recall something far inland, "I could not tell the truth from the mirage..." she beckons.)
With song titles like Cast A Hook, Ocean Night Song and Drink Deep, the ocean is well represented here. Portland, Oregon is quite a sea-shanty little town- just search through the lyric sheets of bands like The Decemberists' and The Shins' latest effort and you can see exactly what kind of effect the greatest ocean has on the collective psyche of the Pacific Northwest's greatest songwriters. To The Country, with a lovely little backing chorus, may be the most beautifully done song, the most "Veirs-like" of all the tracks. Just a violin, guitar and piano to guide Laura into the middle section of the song, then hand claps and a softly plucked bass become faintly and unobtrusively emergent.
Year Of Meteors, Veirs' last album, was a beautiful little collection of songs, each standing alone as strong examples of accomplished songwriting, but coalescing together to make it the most cohesive album in Laura's catalog. On Saltbreakers, the standout tracks are Pink Light and Don't Lose Yourself, which don't necessarily fit into the theme of water, and, sadly the newer batch of songs only mildly disappoints. The second half of the album also features less and less of The Saltbreakers, waning finally into a guitar and double-tracked vocal arrangement to end the album with Wrecking. The string quartet backing also ends all too abruptly, but that just may be Veirs' point; that relationships, love, friends, and even life itself- all end much too quickly, most of the time with out warning.
Overall rating: 81