Laura Gibson is an acclaimed singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Portland, Oregon. For her fifth album, Goners, Gibson has produced a rich, dark and mysterious collection of songs around the theme of grief and the intimacy of shared loss which, despite the harrowing and unsettling subject matter, manages to create a sense of optimism and renewed hope. For many of the songs, she has set aside her trusty guitars in favour of piano and Wurlitzer and created a series of bold and imaginative soundscapes, peppered with multi-tracked vocals and flourishes of strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion and ambient samples and loops. This is Gibson’s first album since completing a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and these new songs provide a masterclass in powerful, poetic and enigmatic storytelling, saturated in vivid and dream-like imagery. As Gibson herself has said: “I wanted to aim for wildness in my lyrics, not perfection.” The haunting and, at times, traumatic, narratives are offset cleverly by the caress of Laura Gibson’s intimate, graceful and feathery vocals.
The album opens with the elegant I Carry Water, its poignancy emphasised by the heavenly stacking of Laura Gibson’s vocals. Constructed around robotic percussion and shimmering keyboards, and using soaring strings to heighten the tension, Domestication likens spirited women to wolves (“I was born a wolf in women’s clothes, shadow-stained, blue and gray, I tore a hole in every dress I made…”). Over gently-picked acoustic guitar, Gibson muses on the multi-faceted nature of love and desire in Slow Joke Grin (“…but I was never one to second-guess and draw a line between love and fear of loneliness.”). The towering title track, Goners, uses swooning strings, elegant brass and woodwinds and skittering percussion to dramatic effect, as Gibson foretells the apocalypse…”Here comes the end, no white ship, no sunset
I could fake wise, make brave eyes, but I know nothing, I was never trying to be saved or do the saving”.
Featuring gentle bossa nova rhythms and strings and brass arrangements which Bacharach would be proud of, Performers is a slow-burning tour de force, in which Laura Gibson imagines lives played out on a theatre stage (“Bright arm of light through the curtains, sweat silhouettes on velvet seats, I believed you then, I believe you still…”). Despite its title, Tenderness (featuring pulsing bass, choppy percussion, swooping strings and a killer chorus) alludes to the anger and guilt often felt as part of the grieving process…”I left town, tucked myself into a mountain, became something dark and hungry, still the creek was muttering your name.” Marjory and Thomas are elegant but contrasting character studies: the former seeking to ward off an ominous and spectral figure and the latter expressing longing for a departed loved one. In the emotive final song, I Don’t Want Your Voice To Move Me, Gibson clings to her right to embrace grief fully and avoid catharsis…”Honey, all I know of hope is throwing stones into the void.”
Commenting on the creation of Goners, Laura Gibson said: “I wanted to leap beyond my abilities and see where I landed.” With this album of rare excellence, she has staked a strong claim for a place among the elite of American singer-songwriters.
Goners was released on 26th October 2018 via City Slang Records.