Nov 29, 2022
By Caleb Campbell
In the waning days of fall, as the weather gets colder and the last of the leaves drift from the trees, there’s a bittersweet nostalgic beauty to be found in the ending of the year and the beginning of a new one. It is easy to turn inward when wistful memories of days gone past and uncertain imaginings of those to come cloud the air. Lavender, the sophomore album from singer/songwriter Gemma Laurence unfolds in this place一at the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another一offering a record full of inviting warmth, stirring reflection, and charming authenticity.
Though Laurence calls Brooklyn her home these days, Lavender has its roots in the cool breeze of the Maine coastline, where Laurence spent the early months of the pandemic holed up with only poetry, nature, and her songs as her companions. As the record turns through its moments of contemplative balladry, chugging alt-country grooves, and potent folk rock stomps, a palpable sense of intimacy and warmth remain its most consistent character.
That intimacy shines from even the record’s opener, “Morningside Heights,” remaining ever delicate and contemplative even as the pedal steel, echoing percussion, and soft acoustic thrumming build upwards. Much of the album operates in this mode, but Laurence also fills these quiet moments with intentional instrumental details, from the subtle trumpet swells on “35mm” to the birdsong and rainfall that punctuate “Adrienne.” These precious details bring Lavender’s most affecting moments to life, letting you live within them and feel the full weight of heartbreak, the warm glow of new love, and the aching yearning of nostalgia.
The soul of the album lives within these emotions and the vivid imagery they conjure. Outside of songwriting, one of Laurence’s greatest loves is poetry, and her lyrics often ring with their own poetic grace, sentiment layered within every confessional. She paints her scenes with a picturesque romanticism, one that feels as moving in heartbreak as it is in love. Additionally, though Laurence has described her music as “Sapphic folk,” this record also represents the first time she has acknowledged her queerness in her music, an element that feels like an undeniably core part of the album’s vignettes. Laurence’s queerness shapes her lyrical and poetic lens in ways both obvious and subtle, whether she is longing over a friend turned lover in “Adrienne” or exploring the fear and joy of the coming out experience on “Lavender.”
Yet, as much as the album’s focus remains on Laurence’s lyricism, she also weaves in moments of eclectic folk rock stylings, careful not to let the record be overwhelmed by all of its ballads. The stomping rhythms and soaring instrumentation of “Lavender” make it an early highlight, and the record’s mid-section sees Laurence pull from the worlds of country and bluegrass on “Watchdog” and “Canyon Moon”. The former explores the uncertainty around a new relationship, offering up a pounding groove tinged with pedal steel and twangy guitar, while the latter fills the mix with thick drums, handclaps, sawing fiddle, and banjo. Finally, the record closes on an expansive note, looking forward to the future with Laurence backed by winding electric guitar licks, swelling organ, and confident rock grooves.
Those final moments of “Rearview,” feel especially notable given how deeply wistful and nostalgic the rest of Lavender is. Much of the album is lost in memory, reflecting on past moments of joy or longing and painting vivid portraits through a melancholic haze. In contrast, “Rearview” feels powerfully present and self-assured, acting as both a farewell and a new beginning. Laurence sings, “I’ll remember you fondly but I’ve gotta go my own way/On my own I’m free/I can love what he didn’t see/The light in my eyes/The warmth in my smile/The love that I feel so fearlessly from the core of my heart.” It also is not only a moving coda to the record but also a confirmation of what listeners can already tell: The future looks bright for Laurence. (www.gemmalaurence.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
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