'July Flame' by Laura Veirs is a hugely underrated album, which is a strange thing to say, because I've never met anyone who heard it and didn't like it. It's underrated because it was not hailed as indisputably one of the masterpieces, one of the must-listen-tos of 2010. It deserved a crown, and instead it garnered some modest acclaim. The reasons it was not a global takedown are the same reasons that it is so fine. It is a restrained record, and a record that truly focuses on craft over popularity.
I saw Veirs perform shortly after this record came out, and was surprised by the spareness of her setup. A few drums here and there, the skeleton of a band.. And yet she was able to conjure up most of the sounds of her album through this format. The concert was excellent, in part because the venue suited the music: it was a medium sized room that could have been somebody's basement. Her album aims for these rooms. It is not stadium music, it is intricately woven music that is dynamic and playful, but never overly loud. You have to listen to it. The opener, "I can see your tracks," is a kind of manifesto for the feel of the album to come. It's mostly just guitar and voice, but there is tension between the warm finger picking of the verse and the quick rush of the strummed chorus. It's a subtle differentiation, but once your ears get attuned to that level of drama, the album takes off in all kinds of wondrous directions that you might not notice if you're looking for big, radio-sized hooks.
It is so obviously an album that was made with good intentions. Those intentions are, in some ways, laid bare on the closing track, "Make Something Good." In this, the speaker talks about wanting to make something true, that will stand the test of time like an organ pipe in a church that holds its tune over the years (her lovely metaphor). The chorus talks about the desire to make something 'so fine' even if it takes 'real long time'. It seems appropriate in this case to say that the song sums up the spirit of the album.
It's a record made for its own sake, that comes out of the desire to 'make something good.' In this case, Veirs was obviously interested in paring back her sound to find the essentials. It is a vivid and successful exploration that deserves to be louded in tones much louder than any she would ever employ on her album.
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