Published Apr 11, 2018The Lookout is Laura Veirs' tenth album, and first to follow her 2016 collaboration with Neko Case and k.d. lang, case/lang/veirs. It finds the prolific and fantastic singer-songwriter challenging herself to find new ways to write music — she wrote 117 songs for it, which she whittled down to 12 — like using an excerpt from T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" as a jumping-off point for album opener "Margaret Sands."
But though her process can be highly technical, Veirs remains deeply psychological and intuitive in her songs, drawing from a well of personal experience and concrete nature-based imagery to paint an overall picture of the fragility of these times, of fire and protection, of literally looking out for each other, from the perspective of a parent, partner and musician trying to be good.
Veirs is joined on The Lookout by Karl Blau, whom she's known for nearly 20 years; Jim James, who sings harmony on Grateful Dead cover "Mountains of the Moon"; and Sufjan Stevens, who lends co-lead response vocals on "Watch Fire," providing a balm to the tension of Veirs' words. It's produced, like all of Veirs' albums, by her husband Tucker Martine, who contributes the rhythmic feel, which this time flirts with the electronic.
Much of The Lookout is subtly fraught. "Everybody Needs You" sounds both like a harrying command and a truth about interconnectedness; "Seven Falls" is a "Harvest Moon"-like admission of a lingering dark side from childhood. But "The Meadow," which Veirs plays sparsely on piano, takes us to a peaceful, if impermanent place. "We knew it wouldn't last / It was beautiful," she sings.
Veirs enlists her kids (and their cousin) to sing Ram-like backup vocals on "Lightning Rod," which is full of wonder at the power of lightning. Like the campfires people gather around throughout the record, The Lookout is meant to offer comfort; which it does. (Bella Union Ltd.)