Laura Gibson - Empire Builder

Laura Gibson – Empire Builder

Laura Gibson’s ”Empire Builder” serves as a memento of an individual in transformation. Showcasing themes around loss, loneliness and womanhood, this singer-songwriter’s second album relays the story of Gibson’s rebuilding of her own life after an explosion which destroyed her home and work. Blending traditional genres such as folk and country with indie influences creates a truly unique album, retaining a musical substance throughout. From a poignant story comes an honest, heartfelt album.

The sound of the album inspires curiosity and intrigue. Maintaining the familiar acoustic, traditional folk singer-songwriter vibe with individualism is something which Gibson has achieved here. Layering acoustic guitar, pure vocals and more unusual sounds ranging from organ to marimba creates a unique feel to every song. Think Laura Marling with edge.

Achingly catchy choruses pepper the 8-track album. ‘The Cause’, the opening track, is a personal highlight. Draped with gliding strings and guitar, the track maintains a dynamism throughout and hits a variety of musical buttons, staying acoustically rich and interesting from start to finish. Gibson’s voice is pure and understated, contrasting with the contemporary accompaniment and rather industrious percussive sounds which start the track (an element echoed in ‘Not Harmless’). This is a song which stayed in my head for a while after first listening and is a great opening track for this album.

Gibson’s signature sound is carried through to the next track and another album highlight, ‘Damn Sure’. Country vibes come through this song, with the tell-tale rising vocal inflection in the title lyric. The track is wrapped in warm, sometimes distant vocal layering and solitary oscillating guitar picking throughout, an element seen throughout modern folk sounds. Though thoughtfully understated, the track still grows and develops along the way, introducing piano and deeper backing vocal work towards its conclusion. This subdued yet captivating sound is indicative of a talented and mature songwriter, who knows when to hold back when others would perhaps continue building texturally.

The latter half of the album, however, is where Gibson’s songwriting really comes into its own. The penultimate track, ‘Caldera’, is wonderfully climactic and introduces unknown and interesting timbres in alien-sounding wobbly tones as well as more familiar rich, lamenting strings which double the vocal melody and provide a depth in the overall texture. They also form the instrumental break in which the track climaxes. Towards the end, the track widens and is really allowed to breathe and release from the previously subdued style. More expansive string lines and drum tracks evolve as the vocal line comes to a close. The song ends on this high before continuing into the appropriately named ballad finale in ‘The Last One’. Both songs are brilliant and display a stylistic versatility on the album.

Successfully demonstrating a unique blend of retro sound with modern inflection and quirky songwriting, this album seems to belong on a record rather than CD. Yet it certainly holds its own as a nu-folk album in the modern musical scene. Though this album is clearly worthy of praise and listens, I have to say it does not necessarily excite me and touch on that primal sense which makes me fall in love with music and become truly excited by it. It lacks an X factor for me. It is very good, don’t get me wrong, but not truly fantastic. Nevertheless, Gibson is certainly a very talented songwriter and has produced a record to be proud of. Emotionally driven and unique in flavour, ‘Empire Builder’ should certainly attract well deserved praise and attention from music lovers.

Release Date 1st April 2016 (City Slang Records)


Will Lawton

I am a third year music student at the University of Leeds and am passionate about experiencing music. In my view, being able to hear, see and appreciate the human involvement in playing an instrument or singing is the most important thing.