Review Summary: Not as charming and innocent as it seems.
The praise that has been heaped upon Laura Stevenson and The Can’s 2011 release Sit Resist
has, predictably, been met with a fair amount of backlash. For every music listener out there that is absolutely in love with the album, there is someone crying “overrated!” This opinion is not hard to understand and most of the arguments actually carry some weight. For the most part, it is a simple indie-folk record. There is not much new ground being broken here in the musical sense and, on the surface, there is very little that separates this album from others in the genre. Sure, the acoustic guitar is nice and there are definitely some intriguing musical ideas to be enjoyed, but it doesn’t sound all that different from, say, a Laura Marling
album, or a Dan Mangan
album. Laura Stevenson’s voice is nice as well, sure, but it’s not so amazingly unique that it leaves her peers in the dust. In most ways, this is nothing more than an enjoyable folk album, easily comparable to the work of her contemporaries.
But there is something that sets this album apart, something that thrusts it into consideration for best album of 2011. Beneath the surface of this simple, by-the-books indie-folk album lies a devastatingly heartbreaking story of a woman who outgrows a dysfunctional relationship. Throughout the 39-minute playtime of the album, Laura Stevenson tells a story of true love, and the pain of having no option but to run away from it. The album begins on a note of somewhat mixed-emotions. As Stevenson sings “I am overlooked
” on the opener ‘Halloween Pts. 1 & 2’ it becomes clear that there is already something wrong with the relationship that is the lyrical focal point of this album. But very clearly, this is a relationship based on pure, true love. This is perhaps most obvious on ‘Master of Art’ (which also happens to be one of the album’s best tracks): “You came with your faith unshaken. Unabashed, oh my darling you’re amazing, with your hands so cold and full of callouses. Your name is the only word that I hear.
” On the third track, ‘Caretaker’, Stevenson begins by singing “I wake up, feed your cat, and tell myself that I’m OK where I’m at
” and the picture becomes a little bit clearer. The other character, if you will, in this story that is being told is suffering from some form of depression (which is painted out very clearly in the next track, ‘The Healthy One’). By the time we get to close to the halfway point of the album, her frustration begins to boil over: “How else can I say, I am NOT your hide away? So get your face out from the crook in my arm. No longer just I can be what’s keeping you alive. If I slip up, if I fall asleep, you’re gone. God knows I’ve tried, but I am God damn tired.
” It can be gathered from the lyrical content in the first half of the album that the love is still there and as strong as ever, but the mental state of her significant other is taking its toll on the relationship, becoming unbearable.
Later in the album, Stevenson signs about ridding herself of this stress, of escaping a dying relationship. In the celebratory ‘Barnacles’ for instance, she sings “scrape these barnacles, I am whole again. Finally purified or whatever that means.
” This theme is carried through most of the second half of the album in tracks like ‘The Wait’, which segues brilliantly into the penultimate track ‘The Weight.’ This brings me to the album’s closer, and one of the most devastating songs I have ever heard. On ‘I See Dark’ the lyrics tell the story of a woman who has given up on naively fighting the depression of her friend and opts instead to comfort him and accept things for what they are: “Cause I’ve seen dark, and I cannot right it. I see dark. I know you are tired of fighting. We’ll lay with the lights out. I’ll lie if you want me to. But I will lie next to you. I can hear them too.
Albums about break-ups are a dime-a-dozen these days. There are plenty of examples of albums which tell the story of a heart-broken young person (usually a male) dealing with the aftermath of being dumped. The thing that makes Sit Resist
so unique though, is that its story is being told from the opposite perspective. The protagonist on this album is not the depressed adolescent that has been cast aside. Instead it is the one dealing with the side-effects of a depressed significant other who eventually matures enough to cut her loses and reluctantly (but firmly) throw true love away.
Perhaps it is because I can personally relate with the story that Laura Stevenson weaves here very strongly that I hold this album in such high regard, and this is where subjectivity comes in. Again, the music is not so shockingly unique or ground-breaking that it propels this album into classic status on its own. That’s not to say the music is unimpressive or poorly thought out, far from it. The way that the album’s flow is controlled by two transitional pieces of music, cutting the album into thirds (‘Finish Piece’ and ‘Red Clay Roots’) is actually quite remarkable. Furthermore, the music on each track fits the tone set by the lyrics perfectly (I’m thinking the upbeat sounds of ‘Barnacles’ here, or the slow, melancholy sounds of ‘I See Dark’). But the true magic of this album lies in the story of frustrating love that Laura Stevenson tells with her outstanding lyrics. When it comes down to it, the music that means the most to us as listeners is able to connect with us on some level that other music cannot. With Sit Resist
, Laura Stevenson and her cans have connected with me on a deeply personal level. When I listen to this album, I hang on to every lyric as it conjures up memories of my now dead four-year relationship and how it went sour when my depression started to become too much for both of us to handle.
I don’t expect this album to be held in such high regard by very many people. On the surface, it is nothing more than a collection of simple indie-folk songs with lyrics about love and loss. But the best music does something to us that words cannot accurately explain (no matter how many words we naively type to try to get our point across). That is what this album does for me, and that is why it has become one of my all-time favourites, and easily my favourite from 2011.