Plumbiferous Media

July Flame – Laura Veirs

Jan 21st 2010
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July Flame - Laura VeirsLaura Veirs
July Flame
Score: 66

Experienced, often self-releasing singer-songwriter Laura Veirs released her seventh album, July Flame, last week. For her newest release, she has brought in Jim James of My Morning Jacket for backup vocals. Unfortunately, his oddly placed harmonies and other lines most clearly expose July Flame for what it is, a decent sounding but distressingly under-thought album. July Flame is a weird combination of thirteen songs that sound almost identical, are not really all that interesting, unique, thoughtful, or creative, and yet somehow manage to sound, for the most part, good.

At their best, Veirs’ vocals are pleasant, at their worst jarring. Veirs’ voice fits well with the musical base of the album, falling only occasionally into dissonance. However, as much of the musical base of the album relies quite heavily on repetition and suffers from more-than-unusual lack of purpose, this close fit is a weakness as much as it is a strength. Veirs’ vocals only really stand out on the best tracks – everywhere else they melt into the rest of the music. Jim James’ backup vocals are, unfortunately, not especially well-used, which is especially notable as much of the music stays below the level of notability – so such a misguided decision sticks out substantially.

July Flame‘s lyrics are less supplementary than complementary – they’re simply there rather than being a beneficial part of the album. Veirs relies as heavily on repetition in the lyrics of July Flame as with many other elements of the album, such that the lyrics and the story of the album flow by as easily as the least engaging musical elements. Exceptional lines crop up occasionally, but are far less common than they should be.

In general, July Flame is nice, even easy to listen to, but by no means unique. Even though the music (both in its individual elements and as a whole) relies all too heavily on repetition, the album is not a complete bore. Tracks thankfully don’t have a tendency to quite put the listener to sleep – usually, and it’s hard not to notice the few tracks like “Summer Is the Champion,” which stand out on an album full of tracks that sound exactly like the previous one (probably the biggest problem of the album as a whole). These tracks become successful not because of their more active tempo, though it helps, but primarily because elements, especially including instrumentals, are significantly more developed, allowing for a fuller, all-around nicer sound.

It’s hard not to feel that the album is significantly underdeveloped, or at least that it was somewhat carelessly constructed. The very first track has next to no motion or unambiguous direction. It becomes next to impossible to tell what is happening (and that’s not to say anything is unexpected). In the end, you simply get lost in the music, and definitely not in a good way. Other tracks like “Sun is King” and “Life is Good Blues” then serve to convince you that harmony and backup vocals are randomly added for absolutely no emotional or directional purpose, except maybe, occasionally, to cause some minor annoyance. And yet, even as inattentively constructed as July Flame is, it still manages to somehow sound more good than bad.

Thanks to an overarching sense of mediocrity, July Flame is more acceptable than truly good. Very few points on the album stand out, so that for the most part July Flame might as well be one long track rather than thirteen over-similar ones. A number of ill-planned decisions don’t help much, though they generally enforce mediocrity rather than actually damaging the album as a whole. Overall, July Flame isn’t terrible. It’s just not amazing, or even particularly interesting.

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