BRAINS + BRAUNS: Hard to turn down.
Following hot on the heels of Jose Ayerve and his many-membered Spouse, Laurel Brauns shows it’s positively de rigueur to employ a harem of guest musicians in crafting an album that’s perfectly cohesive. Brauns features no fewer than 11 of the Seacoast’s finest playing 12 different instruments on her third full-length, Closed for the Season, and she owes considerable credit to celebrated songwriter Jon Nolan for creating a polished folk-rock sound while recording in what’s described as “an old converted wood shop with no running water and slanted floors in Newmarket, New Hampshire.”
It’s easy to see why musicians would be willing to lend Brauns their talents. On the title track, the third on the album and the first where we hear her un-doubled or affected, it becomes clear she has, like Erin McKeown (featured on that Spouse disc), a voice that knocks you over with a little bit of carnival mania. Or maybe she’s like Regina Spektor, with a range that’s wonderful, but full of angles, jagged edges, nooks and crannies. You can live inside of that voice. It’s almost enough to make you miss the finger snaps that accompany the chords picked out high up the fretboard of Audrey Ryan’s mandolin, testing your treble levels for crispness. “Snowflakes fall like newborn babies,” Brauns says of our winter season, “we both prefer a life based on maybe.”
She’s smart, too, managing to create songs about the places that surround us without calling our attention to the obvious. “North 93” is about a highway almost not at all. Where some artists with a “sense of place” just beat the concept utterly dead, Brauns uses local place names (you’ll also catch “Strawbery Banke”) in the same way the Mammals name-drop Peaks Island on Evolver: just to hit you with a punch of associated emotion and dance back away. Here, the verses are fairly rote, but the chorus, featuring the Minus Scale’s Derek Archambault on backing vocals, is pretty damn great. “We slept in our clothes, under the evergreens/We’ve done nothing wrong, yet waking so awkwardly”; the multi-gendered vocals let the mind wander to all sorts of possibilities. She’s got a bit of Michael Stipe in her, both here in a melodic REM chorus and later when she asks, “Do you still think the moon is following you?”
Beware the coda. When Brauns offers, “I’ll be laying in lakes this year, till they freeze,” I feel the ice trickling down the back of my neck.
On the album’s hidden track (it’ll show up as “Mystery Track” in your iTunes, with exactly 10 minutes of silence), she even takes the tired songwriting convention of life on the road playing in flea-bitten rat traps and rises above it, mostly with drug references, which the 14-year-old in me will always appreciate, but also with a demo-style recording that puts her vocal talent on display with only a spare piano accompaniment. “I’ll think I’ll chug a beer, go walking,” she sings, “Cuz the manager is high on Oxycontin.”