Empire Builder is the result of Laura Gibson’s presumably quite upsetting experience of having her apartment building literally explode shortly after uprooting her life from Portland to New York. Tricky times, but they seem to have led to something beautiful: on this record Laura’s beautifully-melodic chamber pop is on top form. On City Slang.
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Sometimes I wish I could simply say “hey, this is a nice thing” and move on with my life as you investigate new developments in yours. ‘Empire Builder’ is one such time: Laura Gibson’s record just is an enjoyable record, and I would happily say no more, because I want to listen to it, so kindly go away. But yeah: inside this thing melodies are dueting, good instrumental arrangements are fighting for the top spot on a podium and a musician is offering one of the year’s clearest songwriter visions yet. It may have come from the grimmest of personal circumstances, but this record is definitely a delight.
Gibson’s best bits are all the flourishes: “Damn Sure” might not be a fascinating song on its own, but it’s upended with gorgeously twanging guitar motifs and bottled vocal harmonies, while “The Cause” sees sharp violin add tremors to an otherwise plain-coursed song. Essentially, Gibson knows how to write a song with gentle hooks and then make it sound special in-between those moments: when I listen to her record, I start to think that’s the best way to write pop music.
The record’s title track, though: let’s talk about that. It ponders its own existence with the quietest introduction ever, Gibson’s voice eventually gripping proceedings and offering up a countrified ballad. It’s one of those songs that moves from nothing to fullness with all the arrangement know-how in the world, its quiet drums, backend distortion and moving chords all beginning to exist like they never didn’t. It’s a supercut of the night turning happily into dusk, and it’s proof that Gibson is pretty good at this building thing. Her songs remind me of the construction site I’ve walked by every day for the past year: I’ve seen it as an empty lot of land, and now it’s a functioning set of offices. It’s hard to imagine that those two states aren’t one in the same.
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