By Cameron Grieves
Shannon Lay has proven yet again to be a human torrent of musical virtuosity. Her latest release is “Living Water” on Kevin Morby’s imprint with New York independent label Woodsist Records.
The album was released just last Friday and is Lay’s second LP this year, following a Feb. 11 release of the brilliantly dissonant “All this life goin down.”
On “Living Water,” Lay’s quietly commanding voice hums through the waves of plucky guitar chords and tear-jerking fiddle solos to deliver startlingly powerful insights into everyday life.
The Los Angeles artist’s voice conveys a jarringly numbing sense of timelessness that compliments her subtle lyricism.
“In your arms today I can feel myself best / In your heart yesterday I saw it all erase my walls and secrets / Home, home, home...,” Lay sings on the opening track of the album.
The words “today” and “yesterday” are used interchangeably, and Lay makes a point throughout the album of constantly changing tense, at one moment speaking for the present and in another lamenting a past that both seem to inhabit the same musical space.
The whole album is saturated with a haunting anxiety that never quite rises to the surface. The wailing of the strings in the background always inevitably crashes against the soft coastline of Lay’s voice and dissolving in her words.
In “Caterpillar,” Lay teases the listener with natural images of life but never fully inserts herself within the song, her voice frantic yet distant, causing a dissociation of time and place that really pushes this album above the invariable sea of indie singer-songwriter releases.
“Life is like the sea, ever-changing in itself and in all of its surroundings / Full of hope, of possibility, the odds of good and bad are matched / It either creates, destroys or delivers,” Lay sings.
“The Moons Detriment” bubbles with energy like a clear mountain stream, swift and churning in its delivery, yet always driving downhill to the dark of the metaphorical ocean of Lay’s spiritual sieve.
Lay’s use of animal imagery ties her voice to an unseen primal power that she seems to speak through, lending her voice an authoritative tone that in any other context it should surely fail to convey.
“Eyes pour through / Like an eagle in a river channel / Eyes for you / Like an early morning ritual / Set to the sun then buried underground,” Lay sings.
“Coast” builds up and deconstructs itself almost in a frenzy that sets it apart from the other tracks on the album, a wrapping-up point for Lay’s emotional odyssey that leaves the listener sonically disjointed.
The title for this album is officially “Living Water,” but just like the title track suggests, I believe a more accurate name would be “Home.” Lay pushes the boundaries of what we perceive to be our presence and space, both in music with the strength of her warmly absent voice and in the whispers of disarmingly simple insight she breathes into her lyrics.