Laura Stevenson teeters on the brink of world domination. Her underground first release A Record documented a sound not ready for commercial success, but nevertheless packed with a juicy, raw talent. It was sophomore Sit Resist that proved the Long Island native a musician brave enough to test open waters with an innovative flourish; unleashing a blistering phoenix that’s been bubbling under her skin since birth. Wheel ramps things up to combustion point, moving her battleship into position before exploding in a kaleidoscope of shapes and sounds.
The album kicks off with “Renée”, documenting Stevenson’s softer side with surprising panache for what is essentially an acoustic track. The introduction is subtle, and perhaps not enough to win over a new listener alone. Like the eponymous “Wheel”, it does successfully tease those accustomed to Laura's layering and aptitude for building an atmosphere. Conversely, “Triangle” spins and whirls an electric guitar into a wall of noise, before proving her delicate vocal capable of greater things than a simple folk song.
Much of Wheel pummels Stevenson’s now established tactic of doubling, and sometimes tripling her vocal for added effect. Any other artist would ungracefully fail at matching a fine vocal with boisterous drums and guitar, but Laura doesn’t allow what God gave her to get in the way of what her hands desire. Lead song “Runner” is the best example of the Long Island native using her wits to overcome her limitations. It’s cracked with an emotive vocal but driven and fast paced in composition. Similar poignancy on “L-DOPA” and “The Wheel” is enough to reduce any earnest music fan into a bawling mess of snotty tears, while also swinging from the curtains and screaming “BALOOGA!!” at the TV.
This is not an easy album to categorise. “Sink, Swim” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth” have our heroine run, head down and fists ready at calypso pop – but it’s Laura’s calypso pop, rampant with a still-raw guitar and clipped delivery, a million miles away from four piece bands out to make a quick buck. A hapless record store worker might put “The Hole” on a shelf next to barn and fiddle acts, but Laura’s melodies are far too complex for any of her tracks to be considered radio fodder.
It’s hard to explain the extent of Laura’s abilities, and of Wheel as an accomplished record, without throwing logic out of the window. Her work is the kind to make you stand on a chair and growl the lyrics at your Nan. You’ll be singing her words in the bath, at the pub, on the way to work, drunk on a Saturday night, on a Monday morning and at your most desperate hour. Whatever you’re doing, the mere memory of her songs will pull you back into a cocoon of delight, triumph and hope. Record of the year? Of our lifetime.
Release: 23rd April 2013, Don Giovanni