With an album title like Geist, the German word for “spirit,” you can imagine that Shannon Lay’s latest album goes pretty deep. Into the natural and supernatural world, into the nature of self, into the world of expression through words and sound. The album starts with a question that frames the whole record: “Have you always been who you are?” “Without change something / Sleeps inside us.”
After her last album, August, her first with Sub Pop and an album that marked her decision to do music full time, you can imagine that she’s gone through her fair share of change since then. It seems like, on this record, she has fully embraced her purpose and found herself in her art. And the record does what the best records do and propel the listener to seek and embrace the most authentic self they possibly can.
Geist finds her writing particularly ethereal folk music, sounding much on this venture like the breakout artist, Weyes Blood. The guitars are mostly circular, finger picked pieces, filled out with other instruments, like keyboard pads, background oohs and aahs, and tinkling piano. “You may not see the same shores as I / but I’ll smile and imagine / I’ll reach out for your hands.”
Her lyrics are poetic, leaving room for interpretation. “I saw the brightest star melting today / They call us, call us, call us, melt away / They show us… a different way.” We don’t all see the world the same way, but we should not be who we were before, she seems to challenge us, given all that life throws our way. “Do not stop change in favor of comfort / A bud cannot resist to bloom.”
The music is the perfect vehicle for her very spiritual inquiry and she seems to be taking seriously her role as a prophet and a priestess of song, now that this is what she has committed her life to. “She came from the other side,” she sings on the meditative “Untitled.” And that’s what it seems like. That she’s coming at us from the other side of a seismic change, beckoning us to follow her into uncharted territory.
The music is transportive and the album’s composition is impeccable, mellow but evocative. “Have no fear / I’m here with you.” She acts as a guide, taking our hand, and leading us on the journey to shed our skin and find our new, higher self. The album ends with “July,” (she has a tendency in her songs to title them after months of the year,) and it’s just a beautiful instrumental, leading us, in her spirited way, back into the corporeal world—hopefully willing to wake up to all of its pregnant possibilities. It may be “rare to wake,” but it seems like Shannon is one of the few that has woken up, spiritually, and is showing us that we can too.
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