Released Apr. 23rd on Don Giovanni Records
I picked up Wheel after seeing Laura Stevenson perform in May. I’d gone for opening band The New Trust, and Stevenson’s set was a nice bonus. She started out as a keyboard player for punk/ska outfit Bomb the Music Industry!, but more traditional music was in her blood: Her grandfather was a composer who wrote “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, and her grandmother was a jazz singer who worked with Benny Goodman. Launching her own band, Laura Stevenson and the Cans, she now pursues an alt-folk vein of indie rock. Wheel is her third album, and the first to be released under just her name (dropping the “and the Cans”, though they remain her backing band).
Not that the Cans are absent on Wheel; in fact, they sound great on the full-band arrangements like the opening ballad “Renée” and the rock-outs of “Triangle” and “Runner” that immediately follow. Then there are slower build-ups like “Every Tense” and “Telluride” on which they show great range and dynamics. Elsewhere, Stevenson strips things down to not-quite-solo on “The Hole” and “The Move”, both jangly acoustic country-folk numbers. The biggest rave-ups are “Bells and Whistles”, which opens with complete chaos then quickly pull back into a shuffle, and “Sink, Swim”, in which Stevenson sings of California being drowned by both the ocean and swarms of bees: “Cover your nose up, they’ll fill all your holes / They will weigh you down with honeycombs / And though it’ll be your one chance to be sweet / You’ll be a thankless home for ungrateful drones / Who will churn your bones to butter”. Raucous tracks like these and “Runner” are where you can hear traces of the bands Stevenson grew up on: Nirvana, Green Day, Operation Ivy, Less Than Jake.
The album closes out with the 6-minute “L-DOPA” building slowly up from sparse to full-band, complete with accordion and a string section, then the title track which reduces things to just Stevenson, her guitar, and some horns. If I’m reading it right, the lyrics are something of a tell-off to a deceased relative: “Because I won’t be merciful / Like what got you first in your throat / I will be real, real slow / Just like a wheel, turn over / I’m like a wheel / I’ll be real, I’ll be real / I’ll turn over like a wheel”.
Wheel is full of melancholy, but with enough melody, pop sensibility, and eclectic musicality to sweeten the delivery. It probably would’ve passed me by unnoticed if I hadn’t happened to see the band live and enjoy their performance. I’m glad I did, because Wheel has become a repeat listen for me lately. I suggest checking it out.