Laura Stevenson
The Big Freeze


5.0
classic

Review

by Channing Freeman STAFF
March 31st, 2019 | 346 replies


Release Date: 03/29/2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Laura, she's my Elvis.

Laura Stevenson, for years, has sounded like the future to me. I have seen her perform in four different states. I got to see the first-ever live performance of “Telluride,” then ripped the audio from a YouTube video of the show and listened to it for months until Wheel finally came out. I watched her get heckled in a dive bar by a drunk old man until her boyfriend (now husband) had to physically push him away. I own every piece of music she has ever released in every format possible, even the Tallahassee Turns 10 cassette tape that contains her stunning cover of “No Children.” From where I’m sitting right now, I can see one of her setlists on the wall that I framed after snatching it from the stage several years ago (first song “Triangle,” last song “Master of Art”).

I say all that to illustrate that I obsess over Laura Stevenson’s music the way that some people have obsessed over The Beatles or Led Zeppelin or Radiohead. Again, she felt like the future, but she felt like the past and present as well. Imagine my surprise, then, when a bunch of videos and think-pieces started cropping up last year proclaiming that “the future of rock music is female,” with nary a mention of Laura Stevenson, who had already been illustrating that somewhat dubious claim for years. “My life’s work is waiting for a train to come,” she sang almost a decade ago. Then the train came and left her behind.

She’s now reached a point in her career where music journalists write articles wondering why she isn’t more popular and why the recent tide of critically-acclaimed ladies didn’t lift a boat that’s been gathering barnacles since the new breed were still in Algebra class. I don’t have to name names because everyone knows who they are. Their “Monthly Listeners” stats on Spotify number in the millions, while Laura doesn’t even have 75,000. On lyric site Genius, the top results for “Popular Laura Stevenson Songs” are three that she was featured on as a guest vocalist. I get no satisfaction from her status as a secret genius that only a few know about, toiling away for pennies as the bottled lightning that still hasn’t escaped Don Giovanni Records.

The Big Freeze probably won’t change that. If the self-assured power pop of Cocksure couldn’t do it, then this scaled-back slice of perfection won’t do it either. After dropping “and the Cans” from her name for Wheel, she’s now dropped them for good, opting instead for studio musicians (save for her aforementioned husband and bass player, Mike Campbell). Gone is the accordion that used to fill out her songs. Most of the songs lack drums, and they are often acoustic. It is her shortest album since A Record. Only one song – “Dermatillomania” – even approaches the jangly indie-pop of “The Healthy One” or “Sink, Swim.”

Yet this album only shows her songs as they have always been before the embellishments that were added later by her band. They were pretty but unnecessary. Their absence represents the solitary journey of mental illness and anxiety, the isolation of a locked door and minutes blurring into hours. Tempos are often disregarded, the music becoming improvisational and unplanned like it sounded in “The Wheel,” stopping and starting with each sentence, new thoughts becoming new songs in real time. Laura flourishes here in a way that she hasn’t before. Previous albums interspersed jaw-dropping and beautiful moments with songs that were more straightforward, if still excellent. The Big Freeze doesn’t bother with such breaks. It is difficult to even listen to individual songs because they flow into each other so well that it feels wrong to skip around.

That said, this is her strongest collection of songs yet. “Value Inn” is the bleakest song Laura has ever written, with its beautifully eerie imagery of emergency lights reflecting off an abandoned wave pool, the reverie broken as guitars stab at the encroaching dark. “Living Room, NY” shows her supernatural talent for vocal overdubs, which so many artists use only to make their voices louder in relation to the music. Laura instead dances nimbly atop her own voice or sinks beneath it, using it as an instrument and proving that her songs never needed a glockenspiel or accordion with a voice this stunning. Still, people missing the climaxes of songs like “Master of Art” or “L-DOPA” will find a new favorite in “Low Slow,” a song that builds and builds meticulously, tortuously, until it explodes with strings and an honest-to-god pop-star vocal run.

And with “Dermatillomania,” Laura takes the advice that she gave herself way back on “Beets Untitled” to “stop singing in code.” In a recent op-ed, she detailed her struggle with the potentially debilitating mental illness, making it even more impressive that she can still write music like this, music that has the sun shining through it. “Now you’re exorcised from my mind,” she tells her illness after the horns fade away, knowing it isn’t true but hoping against hope anyway. Take the hits as they come, her songs tell us. But get back up. Always get back up.



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user ratings (190)
3.8
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
March 31st 2019


1077 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i've never been able to edit myself when it comes to laura stevenson, and this is no different.



hopefully some other jeff buckley superfans will get the summary reference.

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
March 31st 2019


8802 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Was waiting for this review and love it, no surprise.



This is THE album I've always desperately hoped she would make, where she'd stop hiding behind (still very good) upbeat stop-gaps on her albums and go all in on that breathtaking voice and intimacy. I love this album more than I love myself lol

Digging: Vi Som Alskade Varandra Sa Mycket - Det Onda. Det Goda. Det Vackra. Det Fula.

Lucman
March 31st 2019


3562 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Beautiful review, Chan, love you for this almost as much as I love Stevenson and this record. I've said it before but Wheel is my favourite female singer/songwriter record of all-time and this is etching its way into my life just like that record did. To add to this splendid record, today is the first day of Autumn over here in Australia. The sky is clear, the grass bright green, and the air cool and fresh. This record could not be a better soundtrack right now.

Digging: Hallelujah The Hills - I'm You

Sinternet
March 31st 2019


21080 Comments


[something something queef

solid review will check

Digging: Erika de Casier - Essentials

budgie
March 31st 2019


15393 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

gonna check tomorrrrroooooow cuz i gotta watch some horror movies tonight

but am stoked

even liked her post on facebook

i never like ANYTHING

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
March 31st 2019


8802 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Can't wait to give her a big hug when I see her in DC, these songs are rough

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
March 31st 2019


18587 Comments


Really liked this review, I never got into Laura Stevenson back in the day but v much feel like this giving a try regardless

Digging: Ben Howard - I Forget Where We Were

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
March 31st 2019


17189 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this sounds amazing

Lord(e)Po)))ts
March 31st 2019


48259 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0 | Sound Off

I check every Stevenson album as they come to try and understand the fuss and they just seem to get less and less remarkable every time rendering me more and more confused about the hyperbolic acclaim

Digging: CHINAH - ANYONE

dimsim3478
March 31st 2019


8511 Comments


fair enuf but a 1? is it really like brokencyde-tier?

Digging: Have a Nice Day! - DYSTOPIA ROMANCE 4.0

budgie
March 31st 2019


15393 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

hes just doing it for attention

Trebor.
Staff Reviewer
March 31st 2019


57032 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeeeessssss

Son of Mr. Pain
March 31st 2019


24992 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

HYPE THE FUCK

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
March 31st 2019


8802 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Let's talk about how this is absolutely her best album vocally because FUCK

I think it's her best album in general but I think it's hard to deny her voice has never been better

Lucman
March 31st 2019


3562 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

One of the best voices in music tbh. Nothing else sounds as sweet.

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
March 31st 2019


8802 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

The end of Low Slow is just awe-inspiring it's ridiculous lol

Lucman
March 31st 2019


3562 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Yeesss, that's quickly becoming a top three favourite for me. And the end of Living Room is something else.

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
March 31st 2019


8802 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah that rising cluster of vocals there is...god



Also Low Slow is straight up her best song imo

gigantism
March 31st 2019


42 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Low Slow might have replaced 8:08 as my favorite song of hers.

Lord(e)Po)))ts
March 31st 2019


48259 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0 | Sound Off

"fair enuf but a 1? is it really like brokencyde-tier?"



Well tbf I've never listened to a brokencyde album, and I'm sure comparatively speaking this is much more tolerable but I still found this completely disinteresting on a subjective level





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