tue 16/08/2022

CD: Laura Gibson - Empire Builder | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Laura Gibson - Empire Builder

CD: Laura Gibson - Empire Builder

West Coast songwriter gracefully soundtracks the great American rail trip

Love at first single: Laura Gibson's 'Empire Builder'

I’ve never understood why the great American train journey isn’t as romanticised as the great American road trip. There’s nowhere else you get quite that same uninterrupted time with your own thoughts: to create, to ponder, to come to terms with everything.

Certainly not in the UK, where the six-hour stretch from Glasgow to London is punctuated by so many stops that letting your mind wander as a pushchair or a scalding cup of tea makes its way up the aisle is something you do at your peril.

Laura Gibson’s Empire Builder is, perhaps, the first great American rail trip soundtrack, named for the Amtrak train that formed the first part of the songwriter’s journey from her home in Oregon to a new life in New York. I fell for the album at its first single and opening track – “The Cause” is an agitated, unsettling little song strangely grounded by Gibson’s ethereal voice and percussion that itself sounds like those train tracks – but it’s the title song that’s the album’s crowning achievement. Written for “the person I loved most in the world” and accompanied by video footage filmed on the very train trip for which it was named, “Empire Builder” is by turns gut-wrenchingly direct and misty-window poetic. “You wonder why my love songs are always the grieving kind,” Gibson sings, and it all makes perfect sense.

At the end of Gibson’s cross-country journey was a graduate degree in fiction writing, and the results can clearly be heard in the reinvigorated wordplay she brings to her lyrics. Among my favourites, “Not Harmless” – a song about striking out on one’s own which comes as close as Gibson gets to anthemic, in which she likens her past self to a “wounded bird” – and the ethereal “The Search For Dark Lake”, where desire becomes a “phantom limb” against a backdrop of broken clocks and found sound. The stories here fall more on the side of fact than fiction, but the storytelling is artistry itself.


The stories here fall more on the side of fact than fiction, but the storytelling is artistry itself


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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