I listened to this album many times 'blindly', i.e. without doing any background reading. All I knew from the picture on my iPod was that Shannon Lay has bright red hair á la Eliza Carthy (before her blonde and blue phases). I did not even realise that she was American.
I found it hard to find a way into this music initially. Then I asked myself how I would feel about 'Living Water' if I was told that this was a long lost album by a 70's siren with a intriguing background story (think Shelagh McDonald, Linda Perhacs, Judee Sill).
Once I did do some reading I discovered I had hit the nail on the head. Shannon Lay cites Vashti Bunyan and Nick Drake as influences and hopes for her music to be timeless: “Something that fifty years from now, people will be like, 'Shit's is pretty good. I can get into this'.
Shannon Lay is from L.A. and this is her second solo album. She is also a member of the band Feels, who describe themselves as psych/punk/grunge (they sound like Elastica to me).
The reason it took me a while to get into this album is that the music is really quiet. It requires you to pay attention, otherwise it just plays sympathetically in the background. The set-up is kept very simple – mostly guitar, a little bit of bass, some violin. The album is produced by Emmett Kelly of the Cairo Gang and it sounds gorgeous, crisp, with just the right amount of echo. The instrumentation serves the songs; it never gets in the way.
The songs are mysterious: pretty descriptions, interesting images, yet I cannot put my finger on what it all means. Sometimes the best lyrics are those that keep you thinking and allow you to make up your own mind.
"One day life will take you anyway, yes, anywhere you want to go. We will be free as birds flying high, so high, but not too high. The sun is bright and we are fragile”, Shannon sings on 'Caterpillar', my favourite track because of its very beautiful melody.
She has said regarding the content of the album that it is “an exploration of human behaviour, past and present. Trying to wrap my head around death and decisions and the purpose of it all. I ended up finding a lot of comfort in the fact that there very well could be absolutely no purpose to any of it, all this life going down and we’re just along for the ride.” I do like that explanation.
'Dog Fiddle' is an atmospheric violin-based instrumental that I wished was longer. It segues into 'The Search For Gold', another standout track: “Set off on our search for gold. Only bring what keeps you warm. Before we die we'll be reborn, immersed in the grass of a warm summer night.”
The songs are serene and melancholic, yet never sad. In 'The Moon's Detriment' Shannon addresses a lover or friend and sets a peaceful scene: “Sleep lightly as the dreams float by and I know the song so well, set to the sun and buried underground.”
Nature is all over the lyrics, which I might have found unusual coming from a city-based musician, however having visited L.A. I know that it is wonderfully diverse place where parks, beaches and canyons are everywhere within easy reach.
'Coast' is the only track with more of a band sound and sonically it feels a bit out of place, yet it is good; reminiscent of Throwing Muses. Check out its video.
When binge-listening to an album you inevitably end up associating your life's current circumstances with the music, so for me 'Living Water' will be always an album that soundtracks the beginning of autumn, which seems fitting.