|Laura Gibson — Empire Builder (April 1, 2016)|
Laura Gibson — Empire Builder (April 1, 2016) Location: Coquille, Oregon
Album release: April 1, 2016
Record Label: City Slang/Barsuk
01. The Cause 4:21
02. Damn Sure 4:08
03. Not Harmless 3:14
04. Empire Builder 5:17
05. Five And Thirty 4:45
06. The Search For Dark Lake 3:29
07. Two Kids 3:20
08. Louis 3:03
09. Caldera, Oregon 4:11
10. The Last One 4:29
℗ 2016 Barsuk Records Description:
♦ Empire Builder, Laura Gibson’s second record for Barsuk and fourth LP, is named for the Amtrak route Laura took while moving from Portland, Oregon to New York City in the summer of 2014, after deciding to enter graduate school, to move away from a supportive community, a close–knit family and her long–time boyfriend. Out of her comfort zone, she found even more of a challenge than she’d envisioned. Immediately upon arrival, she broke her foot and barely left her 5th floor apartment for the first two months. Then, on March 26th, 2015, her East Village building burned to the ground in a horrific gas explosion which killed two people and left many homeless.
♦ Gibson escaped from her apartment unharmed, but lost everything: all identification, eyeglasses, musical instruments, years of notebooks and every word she had written in response to her move. She spent the next few months rebuilding her life, bouncing between friends’ couches and guest rooms, finishing her second semester, and all the while rewriting the lyrics she’d lost. A financial recovery was made possible with help and support from hundreds of friends, fans and strangers. It’s no surprise that Empire Builder stands as her most personal record to date.
♦ But while the making of the album was cathartic, it’s not just an auto–biographical mirror–gazing exercise. Through her fiction studies in grad school, Gibson has found her legs as a storyteller and these songs hit hard, separate from their backstory: it’s a huge leap forward for Gibson as a songwriter, composer and producer. Equally raw and focused, Empire Builder captures a life blown open, an individual mid–transformation. •• Gibson gathered a stellar band of old friends to complement her songs: guitarist/bassist Dave Depper (Death Cab for Cutie, Menomena), drummer/percussionist Dan Hunt (Neko Case) and composer/violinist Peter Broderick. Other contributors include Nate Query of the Decemberists and vocalist Alela Diane. Gibson co–produced the record with John Askew (The Dodos, Neko Case), spending her school breaks in his home studio and in Broderick’s studio on the Oregon Coast.
♦ Empire Builder grapples with independence, womanhood, solitude, connection and aloneness. Amidst trauma, loss and recovery, she rediscovered songwriting as a means of understanding her own life and choices. If Gibson has a thesis, it’s perhaps within the final words of the title track: “Hurry up and lose me / Hurry up and find me again.” With clear–eyed honesty, urgency and warmth, Empire Builder succeeds in capturing the moment between loss and rediscovery.
By Marcus J. Moore, MARCH 30 2016; Score: 7.7
♦ Working with Neko Case drummer Dan Hunt, violinist Peter Broderick, and Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Dave Depper, singer/songwriter Laura Gibson sounds newly invigorated, resulting in her best record to date.
♦ It takes roughly three days to travel on the Amtrak from Portland, Ore., to the East Coast. At a speed of roughly 50 miles per hour, the Empire Builder rumbles across the Willamette River and Columbia River Draw Bridge, past rolling hills and scenic landscapes. In theory, the trip gives plenty of time to rest and reflect, and for a calm spirit like singer/songwriter Laura Gibson, it allows her to pull from nature as it scrolls past the window.
♦ The folk musician sketched the title track of her new album on that very train, as she traveled two years ago toward a new life in New York City. Gibson was headed for grad school to study creative writing at Manhattan’s Hunter College, leaving behind her family and a long–time boyfriend. Maybe that’s why the song — the centerpiece of Gibson’s new album — feels especially pensive, shaded by loss and isolation, with an eye toward new beginnings. “This is not, an escape,” she hums distinctively. “But I don’t know how to hold someone without losing my grip.” The track sets a strong tone for Gibson and Empire Builder as a whole: She’s using the past as a route toward joy and prosperity. Gibson pushes beyond her comfort zone, resulting in her most assured work to date.
♦ There were obstacles along the way. Shortly after Gibson moved into a fifth floor apartment in the East Village, she broke her foot, which kept her at home and away from the studio. During breaks from school, Gibson went back to Portland to keep recording with producer John Askew, who’s worked on albums with singer–songwriter Neko Case and indie rock duo the Dodos. In March 2015, Gibson’s apartment building burned to the ground in a gas explosion incident that killed two people and injured 19 others. Gibson wasn’t hurt, but she lost all her lyrics and instruments. She couch–surfed for a while as she restarted her life.
♦ You can feel Gibson’s despair throughout Empire Builder, even as she hopes for a brighter future. She doesn’t wallow in self–pity, instead using her sweet voice to assess her path, pulling scattered scenes from her mental scrapbook. “Now I’m staring at the Hudson, I am humming to the passing trains,” she sings on the acoustic “Louis,” following with “And I no longer miss the silence, but I miss your eyelids flickering.” It’s unclear who — or what — Gibson is talking about (maybe it’s her old flame, maybe it’s Portland in a figurative sense), but she has this uncanny way of drawing you into her ruminations, making you connect with her emotionally. She’s at a crossroads on this album; lyrically, she’s digging deeper to present a rich narrative. On certain songs, namely “Five and Thirty” and “The Search for Dark Lake,” her words feel poetic, wafting in from faraway places, gently floating along the melody.
♦ Gibson reminds me of Marissa Nadler, in the way she needs very little behind her to make her songs come across. Her voice carried her work in years past, but on Empire Builder, the music is more fleshed out. Where 2012’s La Grande was filled with charming campfire songs that took a bit longer to sink in, Empire Builder makes an immediate impact: Aided by Neko Case drummer Dan Hunt, violinist Peter Broderick, and Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Dave Depper, the arrangements are strong but subtle enough to keep Gibson’s voice at the forefront. These songs feel more alive, full of nuance. On the title track, after Gibson has finished singing, a faint electric guitar arises, carrying the song to a soft landing. As a whole, Empire Builder rumbles along like that train that influenced its creative direction. The pace is unhurried, and Gibson offers a cathartic tale of loss and redemption, set against a gorgeous sonic backdrop. She sounds newly confident, invigorated, and free. :: http://pitchfork.com/
Jon Dennis, Thursday 31 March 2016 09.45 BST; Score: ****
|Laura Gibson — Empire Builder (April 1, 2016)|