Words by Gareth Thompson
On her first solo album since 2015’s Don’t Weigh Down The Light, Meg Baird delivers a spiritual and musical watershed. Furling is the sound of someone who has gained serene knowledge, aware of their deepest feelings and thoughts. Baird’s hymns to mysticism have often danced on the fringes of understanding and reason, but this time they cut with a deeper reality. Whatever private disquiet lies behind them, the vocal and musical performances are never agitated. Furling is like a healing handshake from the universe.
From her time in psych-folk architects Espers, through solo projects flirting with traditional music, Baird’s music has sought places of safety and reassurance, where innocence and sexuality conjoin. Furling feels like it comes from years of pent-up emotion about love’s power to leave you either comforted or insecure. Curiously, the album opens with ‘Ashes, Ashes’, a wordless piece of solemn piano that slow marches like a haunting blues. The ethereal thrill of Baird’s singing-sighing drifts into erotic and euphoric realms, leaving a dreamy afterglow. Then again, her vocals have always sounded like they could either hex you or hug you. It’s a voice firmly rooted in the body despite its illusory qualities. Baird conjures a breathy awe on ‘Star Hill Song’ over some acoustic shimmers, then spirals into quiet ecstasy. ‘Ship Captains’ uses grave guitar chords and pinging piano shards as a neat contrast, as Baird tells herself, ‘You worked it out little girl/Lost in the leaves.’
Indeed, the album largely draws upon such lyrical self-portraits. There’s a confessional aura to ‘Cross Bay’ with its folksy twelve-string pluckings and strummings, wherein Baird sighs, ‘Lessons from those easy times/Read like trainwrecks in your shaded eyes’. ‘The Saddest Verses’ (a very Baird-like title) plays with the irony of life and art relying on each other for survival. ‘Spill your cup and sing that line about us’ she sings, as pedal steel cries a river under the refrain’s simple grace.
When on ‘Twelve Saints’ she says, ‘So patiently we wander, we silently weave’, Baird could be describing how her tunes often randomly drift then finally coalesce. Over a tick-tock riff on ‘Unnamed Drives’ she elongates certain syllables, so her phrasings flow like fog through mysterious alleyways. ‘Will You Follow Me Home’ adds a cosy thump to its raggy country-rock as Baird whoops in stunned wonder, ‘Someone likes me, someone loves me/I know, I know, I get it’.
The album closes out with ‘Wreathing Days’ where piano trills allow Baird to croon a cradlesong that’s seriously sensual. Pitched somewhere between Kate Bush and Marilyn Monroe, it’s an entrancing piece made of gentle love, sent to awaken the conscious mind or perhaps to close it down for the night. Maybe it was written on the ‘parchment carried neath my long dress’ described earlier on the record. Such lines make it easy to imagine Baird writing at a richly gilded antique table, but her emotional concerns relate as much to Sally Rooney as they might to Emily Bronte. Baird offers Furling as a secret history of amorous dreams, interpreting the sign language of the heart.
Furling is released by Drag City Records on January 27th 2023.
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