Review Summary: stop worrying, worrisome love
At the end of 2011’s Sit Resist
, Laura Stevenson left us all wondering what the point of it all was. Why, in spite of all of this misery and emotional turmoil, should we care that the world keeps spinning as before, as always? It seems like a very narcissistic, narrow-minded thing to ask, but we all have at least once or twice. In a world of over 7 billion humans, obviously one’s personal issues are dwarfed by the bigger problems facing society as a whole. But sometimes, we can’t help but feel that these issues are all that exist. Despite all of the allegedly impending disasters – the overpopulation of the Earth, the building international nuclear conflict, the rampant corruption in high levels of governments across the world – it is only human to get caught up in personal misery. Furthermore, it is wrong to shun these seemingly egotistical or short-sighted notions as selfish and unimportant, and Wheel
tells us why.
As its core, this is an album about a personal existential crisis. It tells the story of a person frustrated with how the world turned out to be. However, where Sit Resist
seemed to scream at the top of its lungs in a desperate yearning for answers, Wheel
seems content (for lack of a better word) to accept that these answers don’t exist. The single lyric that most encapsulates what this album is all about occurs on the upbeat number "Bells and Whistles." In amongst all the jangly guitar lines and cheerful sonic tones of one of the album’s most “happy” sounding songs, Laura delivers one of her most depressive lyrics: “(…) you are a speck in a pile of dust, and everything you love will turn into to crumbs, so stop worrying, worrying, worrying love, stop worrying worrisome love.
” This lyric, like many others scattered throughout the album, is impressive because of the way that it puts forth a horrible, bleak statement about the future, and yet manages to twist it into something almost positive. It’s a slow burner of an album, and the first handful of listens are sure to communicate the general sense of “oh *** it all” that permeates Laura Stevenson’s music. With repeated listens though, Wheel
will slowly reveal itself to the listener as an album with a much deeper concept. Rather than being yet another record to be used for post-teenage depression cases to wallow with in self-pity, Stevenson communicates a message of hope.
That’s the really astonishing thing about Wheel
: Laura Stevenson lays all of her dreary personal issues out plainly – fear of dying, her growing estrangement with her birth mother, her apathetic attitude towards the world – and then goes on to juxtapose this depressive tone with a sense of “optimism by default.” We can be depressed, angry, or disillusioned all we want. But at the end of the day, it is still up to each one of us, individually, to live and enjoy our own lives. Is it futile? Probably. Will this stop California from sinking into the ocean, or make your parents love you like they used to? Almost certainly not. But this life is all we have, and we do ourselves a disservice when we wallow in depression and build our problems up like they equate to the end of the world. As upsetting a notion as it may be to accept, that human civilization is past the point of no return and heading straight for disaster, it is comforting in a way. Nothing we can do will stop what has already been set in motion years ago, so we might as well enjoy the ride. This doesn’t mean dismissing negativity, personal or otherwise, it means accepting it as a part of life and living with it in a healthy way.
It is a complex tone for an album to have, but it succeeds so greatly here in part thanks to the wonderful work of the band. Laura Stevenson (now sans cans, but in name only) crafts songs worthy of carrying the emotional edge put forth by the lyrics. On opening track "Renee" soaring strings set the stage for an expressive instrumental break. "Runner", a track rooted in that trademark apathetic tone (“to give yourself a little bit of hope’s a lie
”), trots along majestically with an almost ironic celebratory tone. Tracks like "Sink, Swim", "Eleonora" and "Telluride" prove that the band can jam as hard as any other indie-rockers currently going, while songs like "The Move" and "The Wheel" show that Laura can play ball with the masters of the indie-folk aesthetic. Furthermore, her vocals have somehow improved from the last album, in which they were already angelic and powerful, to the point that they often remain the only talking point among casual fans.
The music and the lyrics come together marvelously on Wheel
, each complimenting and allowing the other to shine where necessary. This means that there are a number of different ways to enjoy the album and, personally, I get something different every single time I listen to it. Sometimes I get caught up in the catchiness of the guitars, or the punchy percussion, or the beautiful strings and infectious banjo lines (and other miscellaneous instrumentation), but the lyrics always remain an integral part of my personal listening experience. The central message pops up on every track, and always anchors the album to its unifying concept. The content follows so naturally from Sit Resist
almost feels like a sequel. It is the same person, with the same frustrations, two years later and now presenting her fears though a refined lens, one more mature and eclectic. This is, perhaps unintentionally, a powerful statement album about the dismal state of the human race, and yet it is simultaneously a triumphant cry of self-appreciation and renewal amongst personal depression and apathy. Long after we have died and our petty imperfections have faded into the abyss, the world will keep spinning just the same, and we should draw the inspiration to deal with living our lives from this very simple truth.