[sic] Magazine

Shannon Lay – Living Water

You know you’re doing something right when a low-key live show convinces Kevin Morby to persuade Woodsist to create a new imprint under their stewardship just to put out your record – incidentally your second of 2017! Shannon Lay, otherwise guitarist with renowned garage-pop scuzzers Feels (who, according to her, do also have another record on the way), surprised many earlier in the year with a minimal and highly personal template of alt-folk. It was also her solo debut and its swift follow-up on Mare suggests she has a deep pool of material on which to draw, helping to explain, perhaps, the consistent high quality of her recordings to date.

A vehicle for her whispery vocal and minimal playing, which together frequently reduce audiences to tears, Living Water strings out its creaky tales like a dewy spider’s web, pin-drop song-writing that it’d be criminal to overlook if only it weren’t all so unassuming. Give any of its fourteen tracks too much attention and you fear they’ll simply flee back into the forest. Her songs are ones of outdoorsy, red-cheeked themes, ones a world away from her LA home, her mundane subjects sprinkled with fairy dust, yet still very human. A track like “Asa” encapsulates both Lay’s clear love of the natural and her beautiful interaction with it. Elfin and ethereal, it’s really quite gorgeous; “Caterpillar” too is blissful, bucolic stuff, clean guitar melodies dancing with swooning string parts by the pale light of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon.

Living Water is an introspective, hyper-intimate listen (you can hear her fingers on the fret on a number of occasions) and, as such, it doesn’t make a play for your adoration, rather just your companionship. Sure, it flirts with cutesy, art-house sound-tracking on “The Search For Gold” and it can’t help but dig deep into forlorn, genre-typical experiences with unrequited love, but – in the shadow of melancholy – it’s Lay’s small shows of defiance that stand her apart. Her deceptive voice ranges, for example, from the hushed and aspirated through to the sweet and on to surprising little yelps and brief change-ups in tempo delivered for emphasis. They’re neat tricks and so too are her deft pivots to repeat a particular turn of phrase or to invert the expected. The dizzying bouts of finger-picking and quick-fire percussive slaps in the otherwise barely-there lament “Coast” aside, Living Water is far from a showy display and yet it nevertheless manages to hit hard all the same. Maybe its greatest trick of all, however, is its serene sense of timelessness. Stand yourself at Living Water’s centre and it’s as if time itself is standing still.

Best track: “Caterpillar”

~Living Water is out now via Mare / Woodsist. Shannon Lay will be on tour with Kevin Morby later this year.~