On “Found Light”, Laura Veirs documents newfound freedom with attentive admiration


There’s a hyper-alert, naturalistic sensuality to Portland songwriter Laura Veirs’ 12th album. A new lover has “pomegranate fingertips”; it is “a burning sheet” agitated by the latent light of the stars and shaken by the distant vortex of the planets; the smell of eucalyptus on the street in California brings her back to her youth, “long before I knew you”.

The “ya” is presumably Veirs’ ex-husband, producer Tucker Martine, whom she divorced nearly three years ago. He’s worked on all of his previous records, right down to selecting songs to work on and sculpting the sound. At the time, Veirs said WTF host Marc Maron in a recent interview, she “didn’t really care” what material they would be working on. For her first album as a newly single woman, however, she did: “It was the first time I really asked myself, ‘What do I want this music to sound like?’ ” Light found vibrates with that sense of potential and finds 48-year-old Veirs curiously considering the balance between the bitter weight of experience and the rewards that could come from staying in tune with wonder.

Veirs and Martine owned a recording studio together. He kept it in the divorce, so she started writing Light found at a local arts hub, his first foray into DIY recording more than 25 years after he began his career in a post-riot grrrl punk band. It gave her work a sense of “newness”, Veirs told the Guardian in 2020. Eventually, she brought the songs to producer and friend Shahzad Ismaily, who Veirs says allowed her to make decisions as a co-producer and collaborator. They didn’t do a drastic overhaul, which is to say, Veirs has always been a performer of indomitable strength, no matter who’s at the helm. His guitar playing retains its lucid and refractive beauty; despite her recent strife, she still has one of the kindest and most comforting voices in contemporary writing, high and gentle yet full of presence and wisdom. (This sudden independence gives the album a kinship with the sublime future of Nina Nastasia Horse without a riderhis first album made without his late collaborator and partner Kennan Gudjonsson – two uneasy but full-throated acts of self-claim.)

The differences – and the sense of Veirs staking out new territory – are, generally, more subtle. Production is streamlined and more intuitive, imbued with a sense of interconnectedness between each instrument. (Part of her journey in recent years, she told Maron, has been to investigate psychedelics and be seduced by the network of mycelium, and perhaps you feel its expansive influence here.) Veirs played guitar and sang simultaneously for the first time (another source of empowerment, she said) and she often holds a note to let her voice transform into another texture, while the ruminative flow of his game could echo the productive rhythms of open water swimming. On “Signal,” she feels like smoke: “I curl up and I rise / I scatter in the sky / You can’t touch me,” she sings, as she melts with the soft cymbals and the pitter-patter drums. into a shiny, shimmering gauze, speckled with what might be a whale’s song. The effect is one of being quietly untied, of dissolving old boundaries and finding new forms in the ether, and its command never falters.

Veirs is the daughter of scientists and once intended to become a geologist, and Light found opens with its balance sheet in a typically methodical way. “Well, summer’s gone,” she sings in her brilliant, businesslike manner, echoed by the sisterly tones of This Is the Kit’s Kate Stables, before cataloging the passage of time – the longer shadows, the waxing and waning moons – maybe as a little way of trying to control it. There’s also her list of “ways to be free / Ways to let go / Ways to be loved / The things I know now”, a strangely distanced account of a newly discovered self-knowledge she considers alongside these natural phenomena. But from there, fortunately, Light found plunges us headlong into Veirs’ findings, which she elucidates with characteristic nuance as well as newly honed manner with a punch.

Veirs finds freedom and conflict in literal unleashing: “I pawned my wedding ring / To the Silver Lining / I felt sad / I felt a weight fly too,” she sings on “Ring Song ‘, her voice dissolving again into a long, sustained note. As one of the defining qualities of Light found, she gives herself an inspiring place in the arrangement: nylon-string guitar and the slightest sparkle of the piano lapping like calm waves on a shore. Then she seems to beat herself up for not seeing what she had in front of her in her old relationship: “Maybe next time I’ll wake up / When the hall of mirrors shines”, she sings , and the lovely piano pattern stands out. , the free form of Ismaily, a whimsical game almost radiating with anger. But the fierce clarity of Veirs’ writing prevents making the same mistakes again. On “Eucalyptus”, a bare and angry song rooted around a tachycardic synth beat, she admires the trees during her morning jog: “The eucalyptus smells good / And with its grey-green leaves it’s beautiful / And like you / It’ll drop branches all of a sudden.”

She also finds freedom in sex, in songs that are some of the album’s strongest lyricism. The electrified atmosphere of “Naked Hymn” comes largely from Charlotte Greve’s raspy, sinuous saxophone lines, which Veirs follows with the tale of an interaction that goes from an awkward servant (“Black socks on the only thing that rest”) to an awakening (“Sappho’s choral inside my mouth / Praiseful after years of drought”) to a real rebirth: “By Candlelight I release / What’s let go of me”, she sings, while the game of Greve becomes less inhibited.While the song may have a slightly awkward chorus (“touch has a memory,” repeats Veirs, a line from John Keats’ poem “What Can I Do to Drive Away”), it has no of musical center, only a feeling of relentless reaching towards Something new.

Better yet, “Time Will Show You,” a heavy reckoning with the enormity of what Veirs’ post-divorce experiences have shown him, girt by the violin of Sam Amidon. “Strong hands touch you again / You get fucked and fucked and then / Better men you’ll never meet / You go to Airbnbs,” Veirs sings with conversational candor. You would read a whole memoir based on these lines alone. Their brilliance is mostly down to Veirs’ unwavering purpose, but also how they could subvert the misguided expectations of a 40-something mother of two. (Incidentally, those highs are reminiscent of the latest album by Joan Shelley, another songwriter who is rarely given credit for her earthy, wondrous mastery of sexuality.) Although perhaps Veirs feels it too; the unexpected pleasure of these encounters becomes another bulwark against the refusal to see reality for what it really is: “You have invested in illusions, and you stop”, she sings.

Even when you get rid of your illusions, the question remains how honest you can be. “Give but don’t give too much / Of yourself,” Veirs sings repeatedly on “Seaside Haiku,” in which she watches a woman fly a kite on the beach, an image of freedom, tied down. She tries out the line in different voices, as if finding a level of exposure that feels comfortable to her. As careful as the lyrics are, the song is one of the few moments on Light found where Veirs indulges in her seldom-spotted rockier side: she makes beautifully subtle use of a burnished, fuzzy riff that simmers and grabs, blossoming into an incandescent distorted cloud, and reminiscent of Phil Elverum’s intricacies of the latter days. Here, perhaps, is a more literal breaking of inhibitions: Another highlight, closer to “Winter Windows,” is a hard rocker possessing a rhythm that dances like a boxer messing up his shot: “I’m confusing / Our two lives aside,” she sings, ready for the world. You would also take an entire album.

That said, in this WTF interview, Veirs said she was increasingly inclined to want to make (and hear) instrumental music that didn’t prescribe how anyone should feel when listening to it. (“Komorebi” is the only such song here, a blur of Reichian guitar and fuzzy horns that becomes dense and hazy.) There’s also an almost psychedelic sense of liberation: a parent who has found freedom after his marriage collapsed now staking her claim to continue living beyond definition.

Moreover, Veirs told Maron that she didn’t even know if she would make another record. In this new phase of life, she says, “even the changes are changing.” Whether Light found is his latest, it’s a beautiful coda to a wildly underrated catalog of songwriting. Intimate and deep, it’s a powerful document of self-discovery, Veirs’ own synth-pop Pilgrim at Tinker Creek which documents a new cycle of life with attentive admiration.

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