Like the best folk singers, Laura Veirs is appealing in her consistency and reliability. Her latest album, My Echo, is a concise album with plenty of lyrics illustrating feelings of anxiety and bittersweet nostalgia. Fortunately, because of her clear vocals, earthy instrumentation, and overall precise production, these songs feel as warm and delicate as the best Veirs records of the past.
Laura Veirs has described My Echo as her “divorce” and “disintegration” record. Like most albums released in the past year or so, the palpable soup of anxiety we all reside in is present throughout the songwriting. Add a divorce on top of that, and Veirs is in a position to be especially introspective and searching. While the sense of “disintegration” doesn’t quite come through, each song does feel similar to a few steady breaths taken in an attempt to escape your mental anxiety loop. This notion is nodded toward in the album opener, “Freedom Feeling.” Here Veirs sings of “all the dreams deferred” that she sighs over while she remains “searching for that freedom feeling.” She eventually realizes that that feeling has been accessible in her mind the entire time. This balance of worry, fear, and introspective reconciliation feels representative of My Echo. Many songs here are balanced by Veirs’ considerations of “end times” or “another space in time [where] California’s not burning,” and some sense of internal peace Veirs finds within herself.
The clarity of the production lends My Echo a sense of immediacy and intimacy as well. The title of the album is apt, as Veirs’ voice cuts straight through to us. She could be talking to herself much of the time, speaking her fears and anxieties, and recalling better memories to bring herself back from the brink. The music is lovely as well but serves to buoy Veirs’ vocals. When one element stands out, such as the piano in “End Times,” it rises beautifully with Veirs’ performance while never overpowering it.
At just ten tracks, My Echo is full of little treasures and feels exactly the right length. Veirs carries us effortlessly along from “Freedom Feeling” into the almost jaunty “Another Space and Time” and “Turquoise Walls.” The second song is a sly, bitterly funny song about imagining a day in another reality, one where “the Internet died [and] we found peace of mind.” The song’s upbeat tempo almost makes you forget that we are sadly not living in that reality. “Turquoise Walls” is equally about an anxious subject—staying up all night, unable to sleep because of the unpredictable behavior of a man—but is delivered with a folk-pop sound that overrides the problem of dealing with this “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
“Memaloose Island” is, in a way, one of the simpler songs on the album, recalling an autumn drive and a moment in which “I was glad to be alive.” However, the interesting production of the song lifts it into something a little quirkier and more memorable. Underneath Veirs’ exaltation, guitars are plucked while a tapestry of sound is built that brings forward sounds that evoke a babbling brook, chirping birds, and jubilant handclaps.
Surprising moments of love and joy can be found throughout the album, as Veirs naturally brings up positive thoughts along with the negative. This is illustrated best in the centerpiece track, “End Times.” Here Veirs sings, “when I think of end times, you come to mind,” illustrating how, when she thinks of the end, she also thinks of the best and most beautiful moments with others. This perfectly calibrated sense of melancholy with a dash of bittersweet romance makes this song just heartbreaking enough.
Veirs, in general, excels at songwriting that appears to be simple but carries just enough power as needed. “Brick Layer” and “All the Things” are late entries on My Echo that don’t require extensive metaphors to convey their message. “Brick Layer” has Veirs succinctly illustrating her ability to build up metaphorical walls that are smashed down easily with tender affection. “All the Things” features another simple refrain from Veirs, “all the things I cannot hold I cannot save” over delicate guitar work. Veirs’ contemplation of these simple phrases helps the sentiments burrow into our heads and help us climb into her perspective without being bludgeoned over the head with what she wants us to feel.
The relatively short album feels once it’s over, like an extended deep breath in-and-out. There is a lot here to remind you of your own anxieties, whether they refer to interpersonal relationships or the state of the world entire. It fits then that on the final track, “Vapor Trails,” Veirs comes back to the big picture. She sings, “Hey you’re a vapor trail/and you burn white-hot/you’re here for a moment/and then you’re gone.” Everything ends, and that can sometimes be a bittersweet source of comfort. For the only time on the record, Veirs is accompanied by a guest. Jim James of My Morning Jacket joins in halfway through and is a welcome presence after an album spent with Veirs and herself. Once you remove yourself from your own echo, you can find someone else to sing your song with. My Echo, even in its simplicity, is perfectly suited to the beginning of fall during this uncertain year when we can be unabashed about our need for seeking comfort in the simplest of pleasures.