Album Review: Laura Veirs – The Lookout

by Chad Liffmann on April 12, 2018

Laura Veirs hasn’t enjoyed the widespread popularity or been welcomed to the radio waves like her other Portland musician colleagues and frequent collaborators have, like The Decemberists and Sufjan Stevens. “Not a household name / but she’s been in your head all day / It would be so cool to be like Carol, Carol Kaye.” These lyrics from “Carol Kaye” off of Veirs’s 2010 incredible LP offering July Flame, just about sums it up. It’s unfortunate that Veirs isn’t the household name her music has well-earned the distinction of becoming. Alas, two more LPs and a collaboration album with Neko Case and k.d. lang (Case/Lang/Veirs) later, and Veirs is still delivering radio-worthy tunes that are as catchy as they are folksy and heartfelt.

Now, upon releasing her 10th (!) studio album, The Lookout, Veirs’s vocals remain as consistent as ever: eternally youthful, playful venturing on ethereal, and embracing an honest (and realistic) sense of positivity in the world. That last part differs greatly from 2013’s Warp and Weft, which came on the cusp of giving birth to her second child amidst a news cycle filled with violence, hate, and turmoil. Note: her first child was met with the release of her charming children’s album, (Tumble Bee, 2011). Forward five years later, and though the news cycle seems scarily worse, her vocal ambitions aim at a new purpose: The Lookout is about positivity and moving into a new, more welcoming world. Allusions to protectors, matriarchs, and channeling energy run fluent. Veirs says, “The Lookout is about the need to pay attention to the fleeting beauty of life and to not be complacent; it’s about the importance of looking out for each other.”

Nothing exemplifies Veirs’s sentiment more than the first single, “Everyone Needs You.” This tune cozies up to the listener like a warm electric blanket, touching on life’s balancing acts of love and children, aging, and being emotionally pulled in multiple directions. But there’s a sense of calm and tranquility, as she pointedly sings in the final verse alluding to eternal balance expressed via Yin Yang, “Two koi fish / turning in the sky / one’s in your brain / the other’s in your thigh.”

The track “Watchfire” features Sufjan Stevens in all his whispery goodness, offering nothing more than an echoing choral injection of “I’ll keep the watch / I’ll keep the watch fire.” Throughout the song, this line replies to Veirs’s fearful and worried sentiments of wolves and shadows, becoming an omniscient protector of sorts. The same protective theme comes through in “The Lookout” and “Lightning Rod,” and throughout the album. Even when Veirs attempts to attain an extra pastoral sentiment, it can toe the line between beautiful arresting visuals and forgettable superfluous whimsy, a la the brief track “The Meadow.” Yet each track contains purpose, where even the more frustrating tracks would have left a noticeable gap if they were tossed to the cutting room floor. In these troubled times, Veirs has put forth a gentle musical reminder of the values and choices we should adhere to, or at least consider with our utmost ability to love and connect with one another. The album concludes with “Zozobra” and a repeated chorus, ringing aloud with a call: “And the people’s hearts rose with fire / And the people’s hearts rose with fire.”

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The Lookout is in stores and streaming tomorrow, April 13th

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