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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