Review Summary: Veirs hits her groove, with predictably solid results.
Given all the great things in her backstory - she's studied Mandarin, shared a studio with Bill Frisell, collaborated with The Decemberists, and is backed by a drummer who has played with Mudhoney AND Sufjan Stevens - and the acclaim she's effortlessly racked up during her career, it's remarkable that Laura Veirs isn't far more famous or notable than she actually is. Certainly, her music is good enough to have generated hits by now. You could easily imagine her sound - gentle, subtly sweeping, enlivened by simple electronics, easily if misguidedly bracketed under both 'folk' and 'adult alternative' - and her look leading her to be labelled as the new Lisa Loeb. (Don't hold that against her.)
By this point, however, Veirs is on her sixth album. It means she may well have abandoned any sense of having a 'hit' by now (if it was ever a priority at all), and is likely content to keep releasing albums to her established fans and not try too hard to pick up new ones. That makes Saltbreakers
a curious little album - all of its strengths are exactly the same as all of its weaknesses.
Take, for instance, the fact that her backing band are accented more here than they were on the excellent Years of Meteors
. It doesn't so much change her sound as tweak it a little. That's good because it's a sonic side-step, putting just enough distance between this and its predecessor to make it 'new' in any real sense. It's bad because it feels like an opportunity lost - you might think placing the emphasis on a full band would give the songs more muscle, and it rarely does.
Or take "Pink Light". It's a wonderful song, based on a warm, memorable guitar motif that the band play off throughout. It immediately grabs your attention; it also immediately sets a standard that the rest of the album struggles to live up to. "Pink Light" makes you think that this will be her best album yet. It's not - the remarkable consistency shown here (a recurring feature of all Veirs' albums) masks the fact that Years of Meteors
had at least three knock-out songs and this only has one. While songs like "Don't Lose Yourself" and "Drink Deep" are very good, they're not special
in the way that, say, "Galaxies" was. Ah, and there's the theme of water that runs throughout the album too. It gives the album a cohesion it might not otherwise have - it can also get a little tiring and predictable if you're really paying attention to the lyrics.
Perhaps the most complimentary thing you can say about Laura Veirs as an artist, and also the most damning thing you can say about Saltbreakers
as an album, is that it's the sound of Veirs setting into a routine that plays to her strengths, produces a sound that's unqiue enough to be her own yet similar enough to certain artists around her (Fiona Apple, Cat Power, and middle-period Bjork, notably) to be instantly accessible. That's a good thing for obvious reasons - it produces good music. It's also a bad thing because it's an indication that Veirs has found her groove, and is comfortable in her own skin. Comfort, as history tells us, is often the death of an artist, and pretty soon Veirs will have to make a decision to either stay there, and accept a gradually diminishing fanbase that will begin to grumble that they've heard it all before, or to break out of it, and effectively risk her career.
Taken on its own merits, Saltbreakers
is a very good album with one excellent song. It does, however, make you fear for her future.