An Instant Coffeehouse Classic
Oregon-born singer-songwriter Laura Gibson is no novice when it comes to cranking out indie pop albums: she already had four under her belt before the release of Empire Builder, along with a joint record with featured Portland based composer Ethan Rose. Empire Builder is a more melancholy departure from Gibson’s previous discography, offering both deeply soulful ballads and darkly anthemic tracks.
We’ve seen the rise of gospel music become more widespread and inescapable lately, creeping its way into more and more contemporary music. It has made its presence known many times before in rap, making itself the backbone of tracks like Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” and “Jesus Walks,” but the featuring of gospel music in more indie coffeehouse releases seems to be more of a rarity. This is why Laura Gibson’s soulful “Damn Sure” comes as a jolt of sorts. Admittedly, the gospel-esque sample that is featured is very brief, but it still manages to add some needed flair to Empire Builder, helping to set Gibson apart from the crowd of husky-voiced songwriters armed with acoustic guitars. This would be true to an even further extent if the rest of the track wasn’t so repetitive. There’s only so many times one can hear “damn sure about it”.
The opening track of Empire Builder, “The Cause,” is largely reminiscent of the music of Feist, sharing a striking vocal similarity with the Canadian singer-songwriter, and featuring soaring violins that sound all too familiar. “Two Kids” is a major departure from the moody vibes of the first half of Empire Builder. It’s the missing link from the Juno soundtrack, a track built to be playing in the background of an indie, feel-good movie trailer. The subject matter is twee and cutesy, as Gibson sings about two kids trading a “roof for the open sky,” and “living on luck.” “Caldera, Oregon” is certainly a highlight of Empire Builder, as Gibson’s Oregon upbringing adds a personal, sentimental track to the emotionally loaded track.
Laura Gibson is clearly a coffeehouse queen: incredibly talented at the art of creating calming, audience-friendly indie. But she might do well to broaden her horizons; perhaps trying to branch out from acoustic guitar picking and drumstick tapping.