Laura Stevenson and The Cans – [Album]

Saturday, 07 August 2010

It sounds too simple to say that something is “pretty” anymore. The beauty and the curse set upon those who speak English as a mother tongue is that it is very much a pack-rat language; there are a hundred and one synonyms for everything and the common misperception is that the more “expensive” a synonym the speaker uses, the more learned he is. That's not true though; some wors simply express a gift for gab and most often get broken out because the speaker feels insecure in his ability to articulate.

That said, the single most accurate summation of Laura Stevenson and The Cans' new album, simply entitled A Record, is that it is pretty. The album wasn't created with an enormous budget (it shows), but it exudes heart and genuine care in its' creation and is presented simply, and with love.

If all listeners hear from A Record was the opening track, “Baby Bones,” they would be at least partially mislead. With sighing, multi-tracked vocals, Stevenson paints the picture of a damsel in distress – or at least one in to a point that she feels is woefully beyond her depth – as she patters cathartic phrases line “Baby bones – are you cold? Gather up your scattered toes and I will hold them close” darkly and mournfully while pattering at her acoustic guitar before being joined by a New Orleans funeral procession. That would spur any listener's imagination certainly but when the imagery in the song begins to shift back and forth between the reflective songwriter and the comparatively light Rag of New Orleans, the drive of the song gets too diffuse and begins to lose ground – pretty song or not. The vibe does continue into “The Pretty One” with a Dirty Three-esque violin sawing through to provide a bit of elegiac sympathy for the singer. Listeners may start to drift away at that point because it's all just too much catharsis so early on but, happily, the album shifts gears at that point and ups the stakes in her favor.

Those that have never heard Laura Stevenson before will have been lulled into a state of complacency by “Baby Bones” and “The Pretty One” but those who think they have the record pegged at that point would be dead wrong. Immediately following “The Pretty One,” “Landslide/Dig” slides roughly into the proceedings with buzzing production and a healthy set of very sharp teeth to provide a relief to the mellowness that precedes it. With speedy, distorted guitars and drums that would sit right at home on an indie punk record, Stevenson keeps her melodic duende and a surprisingly poppy horn section for “Landslide/Dig,” but also rocks the garage with it. The song paves cleanly over the initial impressions made by Stevenson on “The Pretty One” and “Baby Bones” in the best possible way; it provides a contrast and suddenly seems to make all things possible on A Record.

After “Landslide/Dig,” listeners will approach A Record with new ears. Because of that song, the record takes on a whole new accessibility and listeners will feel compelled to listen that much closer to the grainy strains that run through to the close of the album. Immediately after “Landslide/Dig,” both “Nervous Rex” and “The Source And The Sound (The Sound And The Source)” buzz with an aural dissonance, catharsis and a grandeur that mixes tape-trading indie sweetness and heart with rock bombast and power unlike anything that anyone has tried before outside of in their bedroom and then resolves it in “A Shine To It” that mixes the production styles and sounds of “Baby Bones” and “Nervous Rex.” The results are something you have to hear to believe; on A Record, Laura Stevenson and The Cans have bent two musically parallel sounds and made them cross and blend beautifully with one another. Listeners will find themselves almost instinctively drawn into the sound because it somehow seems to resonate within them. In songs like “Eleanor,” “Beets Untitled” and “A Shine To It,” Stevenson takes her own pristine songwriting style and lets it get just a little scuffed up and dirty around the edges so that it very literally resembles a diamond in the rough – it's most incredible.

Needless to say, A Record is a triumph. Needless to say, on this album, Laura Stevenson and The Cans establish themselves with a voice unlike that of anyone else in rock because nobody had ever thought (or tried) to mix the dirty and the clean production and performance style that coexist so well here and take care to leave all the marks delineating the different parts intact for contrast in as they appear here. It's anyone's guess how Laura Stevenson and The Cans will recapture the same hybrid of sounds that they have here, but those who hear A Record will flock at the chance to find out as soon as they're able.



A Record
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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