Posts Tagged ‘The Big Freeze’

When Laura Stevenson released her 2011 album Sit, Resist, she was a little out in front of what quickly became a flood of first-rate indie-rock from women, including Sharon Van Etten, Lucius, Big Thief’s Adrienne Lenker, Mitski, Waxahatchee, Lucy Dacus and many more. Unfortunately for Stevenson, she was ahead of the leading edge just enough that the subsequent wave of acclaim didn’t sweep her up the way it did many of her peers. Thankfully, despite the fact that she’s not nearly as well known as she should be, Stevenson continues to make music that can stop your heart.

In that regard, her latest is arguably Stevenson’s most adept album. The Big Freeze trades the raucous guitars and bold hooks of her earlier work for subtler musical textures on songs that open into more expansive interior worlds. She relies more on her voice, which has both warmth and clarity in proportions that vary with the volume of she utilizes. She sings just above a murmur on opener “Lay Back. Arms Out” and lets the natural sweetness of her voice bubble up in the catchy melody of “Dermatillomania,” the most up-tempo song on the album. Up-tempo, yes, but not upbeat: the title of the song is another name for excoriation disorder, which is the compulsion to pick at one’s own skin to the point of causing physical harm. Stevenson wrote about her own experiences with dermatillomania in February for Talkhouse, and the subject hovers in the background of many of the songs on The Big Freeze.

The album as a whole sorts through a host of complicated feelings about family, the thin line between inter- and co-dependence, and trying, if just for a minute, to silence fear, shame and doubts and feel OK as oneself. Stevenson lays out a portrait of dysfunction on “Hum,” glimmers of guitar framing her precise, quiet vocals as she builds tension with such stealth that it comes as a surprise to find you’ve been holding your breath. “Hawks” is a wistful waltz-time evocation of a happier period, while the next song, “Big Deep,” feels like its emotional counterpoint as Stevenson describes a particularly fraught moment. She harmonizes with herself on both, accompanied by barely-there guitar, the low moan of a cello (on the former) and deep, distant piano (on the latter).

Laura lets the natural sweetness of her voice bubble up in the catchy melody of “Dermatillomania,” the most up-tempo song on her new album The Big Freeze. Up-tempo, yes, but not upbeat: the title of the song is another name for excoriation disorder, which is the compulsion to pick at one’s own skin to the point of causing physical harm. Stevenson wrote about her own experiences with dermatillomania in February and the subject hovers in the background of many of the songs on The Big Freeze.

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Album closer “Perfect” feels like Stevenson has reached an equilibrium of sorts, balancing past with present, and emotional turmoil with a brittle sense of acceptance. There’s tenacity there, too: “I’ll be alright by myself tonight,” she sings in the first and last lines of the song, a folky number with acoustic guitar and multi-tracked vocal harmonies. It’s clear that she means it, and even if being genuinely alright takes more time, more effort, more emotional energy than she ever would have wanted, it’s equally clear that she is determined to make it true.

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Laura Stevenson’s last album, 2015’s Cocksure, found the singer beefing up her stripped-down sound with big guitars. A follow-up called The Big Freeze comes out at the end of March, and it heralds a return to Stevenson’s more finely detailed, wrenchingly intimate songwriting. The title refers to an eventual freezing of the universe which makes sense, given that she recorded it in the dead of winter — as well as to the ways relationships strain against emotional and physical distance. In first listen is the song “Living Room, NY,” she longs for a connection to the small details of everyday life with a long-distance partner, singing, “I want to see you stare at ceilings until you fall back to sleep.”

Recorded in her childhood home during the dead of winter, The Big Freeze represents a pivotal step for New York songwriter Laura Stevenson. Despite her pedigree in the punk and indie rock scenes, and the occasional inclusion of a backing band (like the sprightly, C86-inspired pop track “Dermatillomania”), for the first time on record Stevenson’s voice and guitar are in clear and highlighted focus. It is a natural aesthetic choice for the musician, who has often toured as a solo act and who pulls influence from the great American songbook, and a choice that plays to the core strength and organic beauty of her writing. And though it is easily the darkest and most emotionally-devastating album of Stevenson’s career, it is also without a doubt her most powerful.

Stevenson builds on her own private worlds with choruses of multi-tracked voices, swarms of cellos, French horns and violins; orchestration that blooms and swells throughout each intimate performance. Exploring thematic ideas of distance and misconnection; worlds pulling apart, aching loneliness, and attempts to drive out hibernating dormant demons.

In the opening track Stevenson’s voice insists the listener “lay back with arms out, all-in, unfeeling,” to allow themselves to sink into a flood of instrumental sound that thrums between dissonance and resolution. From waves crashing in an abandoned waterpark on the haunting “Value Inn”, to the last leaves trembling before winter sets in on “Rattle At Will”, a creeping sense of isolation and anxious beauty surrounds every song. And yet there is also warmth, and hope. The album’s third track “Living Room, NY” tells of an intercontinental love and longing which seems to have the strength to thrive despite even the most trying and impossible of circumstances. Across ten tracks, the listener will travel through the cold night, following after a small but powerful flame burning from the other side.

I am so happy to (finally) announce that my new album, “The Big Freeze” is out on March 29th! You can hear the first single “Living Room NY” . Laura Stevenson’s music has always dealt in crushing existential dread, be it self-deprecation or heartache. This is an artist who once opened a 2015 song called “Jellyfish” with “I’m fucking hideous and spiteful / When I’m left to my devices.” Even the press release for her new album opens with: “If gravity is strong enough, at the end of time our universe will collapse, pulling all of existence back down to infinitesimal size, like before the Big Bang. But if expansion outpaces gravity, eventually the universe will be cold and empty – all light, heat, and connection will be gone.” That phenomenon of a too cold, uninhabitable universe is called The Big Freeze, which is also the title of Stevenson’s upcoming fifth LP that’s out 29 March.

The New York songwriter is back with her fifth album, ‘The Big Freeze,’ out 29th March.