Into the Light
It is the opinion of this often sleepy reviewer, that if a listener can fall asleep to a certain album, that it’s a big compliment instead of an insult. In this day of insomnia-afflicted attention-grabbing thoughts, if an artist can approach the territory of relaxation usually only reserved for YouTube meditation 630hz chakra alignment videos, that truly is saying something. Juliana Daugherty’s new album Light might come off at first as a simple indie singer-songwriter album to sulk to, but a closer examination shows many deeper levels beneath.
First off, the album cover is pleasing minimalism at its finest—a Venn diagram of subdued colors and a crystal sphere. Scored to the first song “Player,” the Daugherty aesthetic enters quietly and inoffensively, just like waking up in the morning (well, most mornings). Music listening is usually such an event in and of itself, but these modest, yet still determined forward motioning strums help one look around the room in a different light. Oh right, relaxation exits, doesn’t it?
Of course, minimal music cannot work without a pleasingly voiced singer. That box is very clearly checked on the next song “Baby Teeth,” with Daugherty’s folksy ease not just coming off velvety with just the right amount of rasp, but also shows off her comfort with her musicality. With not much to go off besides the guitar strumming, you would think that Daugherty is singing backed by a fully orchestrated band. Instead, her matured sense of melody gives off the groove in a truly stripped down sense. It’s just Daugherty and her guitar on “Baby Teeth” with some aesthetic flourishes in the background. And that’s really all that is needed, clearly.
The folksiness continues with “Revelation,” further endearing Daugherty to the listener as someone who calls back to truly Americana artists of the past like June Carter, just in time to take the listener to a deeper, more sorrowful emotional level on “Sweetheart.” Instead of coming off like a hopeless visit to a low point, though, Daugherty’s continued vibe of musical maturity makes the journey feel like a protected one, where feeling sad is quite alright and normal.
This minimal style allows for the aforementioned control, but flexibility as well. The title track “Light” is the same feel, but comes off like we’re listening to another one of the circles on the Venn diagram (probably the interesting crystal looking one). This song has less traditional production, with hand-tapping drums meeting subdued techno over curiously developing chords. While the other songs add more to the listener’s mental library of familiar, but still solid music, “Light” proposes some new colors.
Back to the familiarity, the inevitable sameness starts to creep in somewhere in between “Come For Me” and “California.” Daugherty’s singing doesn’t always allow for the words to immediately be recognized, but it is during the closing song “Wave” that lyrical power comes into the mix. The song feels much more content and like a satisfied goodbye than the other songs on the album, and with that goodbye in mind, the lyric “sometimes I think you shout to prove that you can feel something” immediately hits home in that “who did this to you Juliana?!” kind of way.
Everyone knows someone like that, and that mixed with the breakup feel perks up the ears and helps focus on the person behind the pleasing minimalism. It’s the kind of perking up that warrants another listen to find more aspects of this story that has that kind of ending. Daugherty has clearly succeeded in shining light on something, even if that something isn’t immediately visible.