There are some brassy swoops in the closing passage of the song ‘Performers’ that offer a grand view against the more subtle work on Laura Gibson’s new album. Goners is a distinct step in the twelve-year recording career of an artist who tends to dismantle, and improve her footing with each release.
In 2016 Gibson released the critically celebrated Empire Builder. The landscape has changed by no small degrees in that time. Many aspects of life in America have become more political than before. Simple decisions, familiar loyalties, or established habits each have new gravity and associations. With Goners Laura Gibson looks at the new world, she holds herself accountable to her old assumptions and reasserts herself in a fight for better values. We can’t quite say that she peels back her old reputation, but at the same time, this album conveys a skin-shedding feel.
Let’s be clear, Gibson was never a slouch in her craft. However, where once there was intimacy, and a kind of consolation in her songs, here there is a string of explicit concerns. A more forthright, and frankly beautiful disquieting happens. Yes, the songwriter has dealt with issues before, but here she is more fully herself. Where she once shared in her puzzlement she now states a case. When issues are confusing Gibson makes the observation that it’s just that sometimes things are confusing, her failure to understand is not a failure of her ability. Maybe we’ve got that wrong, and maybe it’s just that this album synchronizes perfectly well with the atmosphere of the times.
‘Domestication’ is one of the darker, more effecting moments on the album. The fable of a wolf that disguises itself, and attempts to live as a woman, is a not too subtle address of contemporary, and yet timeless, concerns. Gibson, who splits her time between Portland and New York City, spent time in the mountains of Oregon whilst writing the album. Wolves have been trapped out of existence in the state. The crushing of the wild, and subjugation of spirit is handled here with a simple melodic hook. “Make me into somebody easy” Is a lyrical barb that unlocks the rest of the album. This sacrifice of self to the powers-that-be, once recognized, can be predicted and therefore prevented. The swell of confidence is remarkable – and the poetic refrain reflects the strength of the previously mentioned brass, and full-band swoops. Laura Gibson has her instrumental, and lyrical game, on lock-down.
Production of the album has the feel of a dark, shining surface. Instruments are polished, but not overly hygienic. Vocal elements are framed well, showing some of Gibson’s best work on record. There’s a clarity to the way a song is assembled, and yet, moments like ‘Tenderness’ show Gibson’s enthusiasm to sprinkle a little grit into the sequence. Constituent parts of percussive piano, rim-shots, and snare drum pepper banks of strings and a whole bunch of reassuring “Do-da-da-do”.
There’s an irony in pulling a nonsensical, lullaby-like lyric to illustrate the shrewd poetry that Laura Gibson delivers through the album. However, against lines that depict “...the year I stopped fearing my body“, “…a pleasure to meet your pain.” and “…don’t wake a swarm of bees beneath me.” It’s clear that Gibson values the balance of light, dark, confrontation, and comfort.
Special attention should be given to the reverb-heavy album closer, “I don’t want your voice to move me.” A down-strummed acoustic guitar remains high in the mix, and keeps things from getting over-dressed. Even when instruments join the process, and lead to a swelling crescendo of noise there’s a nakedness to the track. “…I don’t want to be cracked open, I don’t want the night to loosen in my throat, to place a landmine down a rabbit-hole.” Gibson perfectly illustrates the unsettling emotion that will in someway will remain forever a part of us all. “I’m like a dog always barking at a ghost.”
With Goners Laura Gibson maintains her openness of heart in the face of an elemental darkness, and in doing so she achieves her most accomplished album to date.
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