After the power pop whomp of 2015’s Cocksure, it’d be easy to think that anything Laura Stevenson would put out next would contain the same energy. The Big Freeze is not that. It’s actually the farthest thing from it.
Recorded in her childhood home, Stevenson trades revved up guitars and crunchy hooks for acoustic guitars and strings. “Lay Back, Arms Out” starts with a distant piano loop before her voice takes front and center. The pensiveness and vocal are alarming. It’s a swirl of FEELING, not energy or emotion. This continues into “Living Room, NY”—a heart stopping performance about missing someone and wanting to be with them so badly, a feeling that is painfully universal. Through horns and strings and guitar and some light piano, Stevenson has made a record that is so incredibly irresistible but is also just as difficult to listen to. There are moments that are so tender and bare that it feels almost like it’s wrong to be listening to them.
Then, there’s “Dermatillomania”, one of the album’s few full band pieces on the record. “Dermatillomania” a skin picking disorder, is something that Stevenson suffers from and recently wrote about for The Talkhouse. Despite its extremely personal subject matter, it’s the most upbeat sounding song on the record, and sonically, a respite from everything else around it.
The Big Freeze is a record showing Laura Stevenson flexing a creative muscle no one could have ever expected based on the direction she seemed be heading previously. It’s a fearlessly mature work from an artist who is challenging both herself and her audience in through brute force intensity and pure, unfiltered musical talent. It makes us better listeners and shows us that there’s nothing she can’t do.