Laura Stevenson is the indie-folk sweetheart. Originally the keyboardist for ska-punk gods Bomb the Music Industry!, the adorable Laura has her own project, Laura Stevenson and the Cans (Recently the “and the Cans” was dropped without explanation).
A songwriting wizard with three albums under her belt, Laura’s distinctive saccharine voice slips smoothly into songs equally inflected with pop, folk and punk.
Wheel is different from its predecessor, Sit Resist. The latter consists of tastefully cutesy pop dressed to the nines in strings, bells, accordion and other eccentric instruments, occasionally split by morose folk. The former is more straightforward, less choked by excess instrumentation and more heavily influenced by Laura’s old punk days and Bonnie Raitt-style country.
Wheel is almost entirely guitar-centric, and the brass and violin blend much more textural while the stylistic differences between songs stem from Laura’s guitar tone, ranging from ringing acoustic to gloppily-distorted electrics.
Despite being a magnificent songwriter, Laura Stevenson’s best quality is her indefatigable charm. Several videos on YouTube show her playing live on sidewalks and in graffitied stairwells. In interviews she’s casual and honest, never fidgeting to find a perfect answer. Her love songs are subtle and sweet, murmured nothings between bedfellows rather than shallow yearning. The sugary pop songs avoid kitsch, and the folk twangs just enough.
Well, we can’t all be charming all the time. The simply-titled Wheel’s artwork depicts phases of the moon and the seasons in a circle, but rather than a typical “life goes on” mantra, Wheel is an introspective album of disillusionment, more on the insignificance and the monotony of life rather than the eternity. Never one to drag depressing lyrical matter with moribund music, Laura accompanies her cynicism with resplendent melodies, lead single “Runner” roars with catchy pop-rock, even as it proclaims “We’re just spinning where we stand.”
Laura even gets angry with class; the biting “Bells & Whistles” is flooded with distortion as Laura sneers, “You are a speck in a pile of dust and everything you love will turn into crumbs.” It’s the depression that hurts like knuckles to the throat. It’s quite jarring to hear indie rock’s cute crush mumble, “I don’t give a s***,” on the hung-over morning after song, “Journey To the Center of the Earth.”
But Laura’s harsh but real emotions become the odd charm of Wheel, belying the image of cute indie girls constantly writing candied lyrics in exchange for punching honesty.
Wheel is a more subdued, mature effort from Laura Stevenson, embracing all natures and forms her music takes, from the gorgeously pensive “L-DOPA” to the grumpy “Eleonora,” the summery pop of “Runner” and the soft-handed demi-love song “The Move.”
Laura’s songwriting flourishes without the burden of glittery instrumentation, and her voice and lyrics shine with some of the purest-spoken emotion in music.