Meg Baird Don’t Weigh Down The Light

[Drag City; 2015]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: singer-songwriter, soft rock, psych
Others: Flying Canyon, Linda Perhacs, Tara Jane O’Neil, Amen Dunes, Movietone, Vetiver, Mazzy Star

It’s been awhile. No one does psych-folk with both elements quite so perfectly pitched and enmeshed, so it’s a relief to have Philadelphia luminary Meg Baird back with a remarkable new record to show ‘em how vital this careworn, 60s sort of thing can be. It bears mention that not all of these albums being reissued from the 60s and 70s are as special as they seem. Sometimes they have more curious context on their side than actual consistent listenability. For every Gary Higgins or Sibylle Baier, there are two or three bin-ables with one halfway decent tune on ‘em, dubiously re-marketed as lost treasure. One musn’t hold Baird’s nowness against her (even if she and her fold did have their heyday back in the haughty oughties). More than most, and increasingly so, her albums are built to last. She’s not just speaking to anachronists, but us sad yet stout-hearted journeypeople, who know an idiom can and should always be (reverently or otherwise) augmented with an eye toward improvement.

Although the admonishing title (and even its Harvest-esque opening track) suggests something altogether more typically conversational, Don’t Weigh Down The Light is a formally folk yet decidedly swirl-prone affair. Its hair is in the branches, its horizon-guided point of view ever shifting in shade and definition. There is a mood of uncertainty, held at bay with a surplus of nimble resilience against all thorny encroachments. The playing is impeccably tight, the fidelity Fairport-level rich, and the compositions well-armed with elegant psychedelic tendrils. But the songs are impressive on the whole for their goosebump-inducing, in-the-moment naked spaciousness. Similarly to Angel Olson’s last album, there is a bracing intimacy that is as briskly confrontational as it is lulling. The listener is feeling possibility in the smallest of gestures by strange performers who seem to want to breathe and absorb their efforts beyond the strain of artifice — to live their music for the listening world. Mostly, it’s impossible for a layperson to fathom, but we better for getting out of the way and silently bearing witness while they try.

Obvious single “Back To You” is the sort of tune that cuts as it caresses with all the bluntly concentrated will of studied indifference, the subtler, less-overt killer in a life where one’s own vulnerability is both coveted and mistrusted. Yet, on a mostly paddleless river drift of an album, “Back To You” is actually an oasis of traditional verse-chorus-verse pleasure. The wordless intonation of “Leaving Song” captures the sweet tedium of fastidious departure perfectly in its one-minute runtime. When we part, it is graceful, it is solemn, it is mawkish, it is finally over. The track is made all the more delirious by its turnstile role as album interlude. Miss The Sundays? Of course, we all do! Muffledly thundering into dappled, breeze-swept view is a grayish-white horse named “Good Directions” that will take you through a mood so jangly and bright it’ll be like the nothing never was (with a climax like “Marquee Moon” in a colonial cupboard). Opener “Counterfeiters” plays like a lost slowed-down acoustic take of “Breathe,” replete with the kind of weeping slide guitar that instantly renders one insipid with wist. “Past Houses” is a loping three-dimensional wander through unassuming, Wes Anderson-like tableau of minute human activity. The present time and the observed time overlapped in a comfortably stumbling pattern.

Meg Baird has never made a bad record, in or out of Espers, but Don’t Weigh Down The Light is the first that I’ve heard that expands so well with repeated listens. It is a brilliantly tempered foray into instrumental drift and comparatively lavish production that suits her breathy, ever-yearning vocals marvelously. Nowhere is a destabilizing choice made, nowhere an irksome lyric jutting out. Despite possessing a somewhat dour countenance, the main effect of this record is a sort of replenishment. Its resolute airs imbue one with a mysterious spiritual sustenance. It’s an easy recommend for wayward fans/newcomers alike and a rare and resplendent listen for anyone with ears enough to hear it.

Links: Meg Baird - Drag City

Most Read