Review Summary: We are the symbols we choose.
I’m going to phrase this simply at the risk of inciting a comment war: unless Radiohead surprise-releases Kid Rainbows Computer tomorrow, this right here is the album of the year. This is the album of the year because of all the reasons stated in the other three reviews (all extraordinary, by the way), all the reasons stated here, and for infinite more reasons than will ever be written.
It starts with a name. Like all great songwriters, fiction knitters, world creators the author understands the weight of this, and so Renée joins Naomi and Gloria and every sung fictional character that has made lore. Descartes said that names are the givers of soul--of identity. A name is the biggest metaphor possible, because it symbolizes an entity.
And it starts with a prayer. Just with the first line Renée make a promise to me
Laura* has already established a character, and more subtly, herself as a NOT-omniscient narrator, but rather as just herself, as someone who wants something from that character (i.e. from someone
insists in both the first and second person long before the album introduces a plural first or a protagonist third (Every Tense
and Sink, Swim
, respectively). And so Laura introduces invisibly the gravitational pull of this work: individuals, and their interplay--yet never forgetting all the individuals here are her (as they are her characters), sometimes even under different “I”s, or that any individual will be hundreds as the moments stir different parts of them and transform them. It’s as if it were singing that the tale of an individual is the tale of the world. Perhaps a nod that we’ll only ever see the world through our eyes. Perhaps a realization that we’re the only one who can decide if it’s all worth it, because only lives, not the world itself, are ever worth it**. To wit: you are a speck in a pile of dust / and everything you do will crumble to dust / so stop worrying, you worrisome love.
And fittingly, much like the hundreds of herselves the author is laying down here, so are the sounds multifaceted and yet one, like all the eye(s) of a fly. To wit: the plays on L-Dopa
on my two computers combined is 58--and it doesn’t count that I own the record and have listened to it in other places plenty of times. I’m 100% I still haven’t heard all the vocal splashes colouring that song underneath everything else.
Wheel sees Laura maturing as an artist and finally integrating (rather than downplaying) all of her influences: it’s not hard to pick out that this girl likes country, or that she used to play with Bomb the Music Industry, but here, rather than sounding like it came from them, everything works under the magic of Laura’s intention--not one thing to be heard as coming from anywhere else than from what she herself feels and wants you to feel. This is not creatively translating someone’s lyrics; this is using the words you’ve learned into sentences no one’s ever seen before.
In it’s whirl this wheel goes through every emotion; it’s caressing (Renée
), it’s playful, both cynically (Bells & Whistle
) and ironically (Sink, Swim
), it’s insecure and yearning (The Move
), it’s passionate (Eleonora
), it’s accepting (Journey to the Center of the Earth
), and so, so much more and everything in-between, all the way until the end, where it breaks its own heart like an egg to show you in its hands the yolk within it.. Put simpler, it’s human, or as Laura sings she’ll be, it’s real.
Said end commences with L-Dopa
is to Neutral Milk Hotel as In the Court of the Crimson King
is to the Beatles. The lyrics are perfect (perfect images
) if don’t try to decipher them; if you do try, they only begin to go beyond
perfect. This is to say, they’re both perfect and psychedelic and deeply personal, which confers them an asymmetrical beauty I’ve seldom seen before in music.
The music on the other hand is the most intense in the whole record. The song alternates between a mellow melancholy and extremely multi-layered explosions of emotion. It’s the culmination of all the musings about herself and all her possible selves for Laura, ending with the beginning as one would expect: L-Dopa
is a prayer--much like the first line that started the whole opus--to . And then the song bleeds down like the ending scene of The Graduate into the title track, a melancholic hate song to a fatherly figure who couldn’t give Laura what she needed long before she had her first unforgettable regret, or unmet wish.
One might think of Dark Side of the Moon’s Brain Damage and Eclipse, except Wheel inverses the formula: first comes the emotional climax, then the aftermath which winds down the tale and closes the circle. In this sense, it might be closer to The Wall’s The Trial and Outside the Wall (it is also similar to In The Aeroplane Over The Sea’s Untitled and Two-Headed Boy Pt 2, both in format and in unbelievable emotional effect); certainly the metaphor of a trial would be fitting in more than one level for L-dopa: “and my mother she stands / where the characters dance / from the light at the height of the room” . That the title of the song is both the medicine which did not save her grandfather's mother in a parallel to her own strained relationship (yet another cycle; yet another wheel) and a direct reference to dopamine--the reward/accomplishment chemical in our brains--establishes Laura Stevenson above all else as a master of words, and as truthful about every single one she sings. Especially the lies we usually call metaphors, which in this album she both confesses as utterly false and absolutely needed and therefore real…
Laura understands that metaphors and in fact Meaning in itself are ghosts; they are otherworldly. They can’t exist, or at the very least, they can’t speak to us, unless they have an unsuspecting host. She sings this in Journey to the Center of the Earth
, in which she in quiet realization paints what love is: dirty laundry, melodrama, shoes lost and the peace deep in which there’s no hurry in finding them. Like turkish art, she understands that what makes a life amazing even if just for a moment isn’t anything grandeur: it’s the combination of infinite small details. Think about your lover, think about how he bites his lips when he’s nervous, or always interrupts himself “ok, maybe I’m exaggerating BUT” when he gets excited telling a story. Realize that all this sort of little things don’t matter, but when they are all together, they make Him, or Us (“Me”), which matters the most in this world.
And much like how that “He” wouldn’t be He if he didn’t have all those useless details, we wouldn’t be us if we didn’t see some of them, if we didn’t choose to associate them and be moved by them as we use them to thread the web of what He means to us, in itself just another fragment of the web of our understanding of reality. Each person is, just by existing, just by liking something more than another, just by the act of remembering what (s)he thinks matters, building his own world: we are the symbols we choose.
Laura chooses this last sentence as the origin symbol for Wheel.
I said at the beginning that this record is the best of the year for more reasons that could be written; I say this in the same way I imagine Allain de Lille defined god as a sphere without a center. The central metaphor of the album is a circle. You know what else is a circle? Metaphors themselves. Think about it: there’s been talk since times immemorial of double-edged swords, but metaphors, since they rely on their interpretation as their blade, and any idea can be given a different spin (“ideas are bulletproof” because the only way to defeat them is to change their meaning in the eyes of people (be it to “false”, “wrong”, or to something else entirely)), are--so long as they’re powerful--infinite-edged; which yes, evokes the image of a circle. Wheel
is exactly that: a wheel that one could walk on forever. Like the decimals of Pi, it could go on and on: it’s just that kind of work.
And by that kind of work, I mean the kind that most artists won’t even be able to touch in their entire lives. I, for once, am grateful for being able to experience this in the year 2013, but most of all, for all the years I have left in my life.
Highest recommendation possible.