Vashti Bunyan Lookaftering

[DiCristina; 2005]

Rating: 5/5

Styles: folk, ballads, singer-songwriter
Others: Joan Baez, Nick Drake, Joanna Newsom

Somewhere along the way, "precious" turned into a derisive word amongst writers. Almost synonymous with "pretentious," the term became a signifier that the work in question was sweet to the point of lacking substance beyond mere loveliness. The ultra-saccharine lullaby "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" rests on the idea that "life is but a dream." The eeriness, upon examination, found in such a simple ditty reminds me of how elusive substance in most everything is. No amount of effort can produce a peace of mind. Rather, it comes on like a dream. At most other moments, survival begets survival. Inhaling, exhaling, moving and resting. These are constants subconsciously longing to be interrupted by something truly precious. And through the convoluted lens of memory, these interruptive states of being are rendered a fleeting dream.

The homecoming of Vashti Bunyan to songwriting is a joyous one - one worth positively reclaiming the word "precious" for. And yet, apt as it is, the word doesn't quite do her music justice. Unlike diamonds or gold, these eleven songs are rare more for their frailty. Somewhere, there is somebody who will hear these songs and feel as though they are tenuous beyond enjoying. I suppose there's a specific audience for Lookaftering, but it's not an aesthetically preoccupied one. I was feeling wary when I first listened to Just Another Diamond Day (originally released in 1970), but the more I heard it, the more gently enchanting it became. This is music for the truly unfettered. For people who can stop all of those silly machinations and just let something purely beautiful flow into them without trepidation.

Something struck me about Devendra Banhart's discovering of Diamond Day. The way he suggested that it was the sort of voice he always knew was out there, and was just hoping to find. Vashti makes the kind of music that, once absorbed, feels like coming home. I suppose it's precious in the pejorative sense. Certain melodies on this release may at times make you feel like you're getting an overdose of prettiness. But these bouquets are so meticulously crafted, it's hard for sweetness to begin to rub you the wrong way. In addition to having a one of most chillingly intimate singing voices, the artist has some other great musicians in her corner. They subtly compliment each song (Banhart's steel guitar for "Wayward," Adam Pierce's hammer dulcimer for "Turning Backs") and provide the album with enough sonic variety to keep even the most racing of minds enticed.

Lookaftering could work as lushly contemplative headphone music as much as - dare I say - background music. Yet it's the sort of background music that will stay with you, and that will occasionally entrance you amidst your tasks. It's moving, mysterious, and only potentially cloying because of how numbingly hyperactive most everything else is in comparison. Low must've been cloying when you first heard them. So, probably, was Yo La Tengo. How about Müm? Like all works of elusive beauty, Lookaftering is something that is so immediate and accessible it will take time to realize just how enriched with subtle evocation it is. The poetically spare lyrics speak to a quiet sadness that we all carry. That we tend to drown out with TV, cell phones, and radio. Through these songs, Bunyan not only holds down these bitter pangs, but shows them for what they are: the beginnings of understanding. The peace of acceptance. Not necessarily compromise, but a serenity in which all that digs at our psyches amidst our day is made lucid. So that whatever mystery remains can be embraced with vague, childlike wonder.

1. Lately
2. Here Before
3. Wayward
4. Hidden
5. Against The Sky
6. Turning Backs
7. If I Were
8. Same But Different
9. Brother
10. Feet of Clay
11. Wayward Hum

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