Review Summary: No one is ever gonna take my life from me; I lay it down, a ghost is born.
The first time I saw the cover of Wheel
, I thought it was a simple “four seasons” type picture, with a spring, summer, autumn, and winter tree spaced evenly on a circle. It took me a long time to look at it more closely, but when I did I realized the obvious: there are six trees. But more than that, there are six iterations of the same tree, or at least that’s how I interpret it. This tree is the branching possibility of life; there is the seed, and then there is the pine or the palm or the dogwood. At what random point in that process did the seed become the
seed? However random it might seem, though, there is still a harmony to it: this tree and its counterparts are of the same circle.
When you listen to Wheel
, you’re listening to something that turns over as it stays in the same place.
That is by no means an indictment. What I mean to say is that layers are added with each passing song, and doubly so with each passing play of the album. I hear Wheel
slightly differently every time I listen to it, but what stays the same is the overarching feeling that there is some ungraspable quality to it, something indefinable in the way these songs come together, as if multiple worlds are eclipsing each other while remaining individually visible. It is as if the moment at the end of “The Wait,” where the last word of the song is buried in noise and unheard, has been extrapolated into an entire album of interstitial stabs and flashes. These songs have lives of their own, and there are parallels running alongside them that occasionally break through. “Renee” is an achingly gorgeous folk song with sunrise-over-the-hills strings and accordion until halfway through when distortion and drums crash unexpectedly. It’s still the same song, but different.
“The Wheel” seems to start and then start over several times in the first few minutes, and when Laura’s voice grows in volume at the end and the horns swell, it is like all of those false starts have reached their conclusion at the same time, their combined effulgence making everything, as Laura wanted, more real. And “Every Tense” feels like a different version of “The Wheel,” taken down a different path to an entirely unique endpoint. It burns more slowly, violins in place of horns, but it is also about shoring up feelings to make them seem warranted and about the endless spinning that builds human relationships. The two songs are opposite sides of the same room; each has unique textures but still extends to a point where they both meet.
But at the center of Wheel
are the everyday things that keep us firmly planted in this
world. Whatever thematic significance can be ascribed to this record, it is more important to note that these songs realize that without the boring tethers of existence, there can’t be
thematic significance. What is love without the little things that make up the memory of love (as Laura sings, “it’s dirty laundry, it’s empty Styrofoam”)? Without them, there are only feelings without anchors, an aching attached to nothing. And I would like to think that the immaculate, ethereal fragments of backing vocals present in “Telluride,” “L-DOPA,” and "Runner" were not meant to be heard, that maybe they are remnants of something private and painful but too strongly felt to stay hidden away.
Maybe you won’t get the same impressions from Wheel
. Albums certainly mean different things to different people, but beyond that, if you take personal taste into account on a broad level and the different ways people process input on a much more specific level, then it might not be that far-fetched to say that when two people listen to the same album, they hear
different things. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but sometimes an album is so good that I want everyone to hear exactly what I hear when I listen to it. And when I listen to Wheel
, what I hear is the struggle of a person cobbling together the different versions of herself to try to be better; I hear worlds turning over.