Review: Gaelynn Lea – “Rebuild”

Man, Gaelynn Lea knows how to wring the sentimentality out of an Electro Harmonix.

The Duluth, Minnesota-bred composer/songwriter, who won the NPR Tiny Desk Contest in 2016, enchants listeners with more winding aural wonders filtered from her violin through that Memory Man pedal on the COVID-19-initiated release “Rebuild,” out now on Bandcamp. The single, a one-off affair similar to 2019’s slightly more structure-heavy “The Long Way Around,” is a highly textured pseudo-solo of ambient-dripped chamber music and it will reward those who take due time to inhale its charms.

Lea has a kind of intoxicating duality to her work, managing to unfurl sometimes-cyclical, frequently loop-saturated compositions, as well as more traditional pop-tinged melodies that rely on a vocal timbre that feels like it’s spliced from a phonographic cylinder. “Rebuild” falls into the former category and eases listeners comfortably through its 3:53 running time, not ramping up to gimmicky crescendos but instead allowing you to wade through overlapping tides of sound. In this, “Rebuild” is eerily reminiscent of Lea’s incredible take on “The Carol of The Bells,” off the 2016 LP Deepest Darkness, Brightest Dawn. On that track, Lea, too, imbued the measures with a quiet and humbling patience, allowing lines to loop back over each other and provide their own reprises and subsequent readings, a kind of self-referential simulacrum that speaks to the heart as much as the head.

“Rebuild” has no center, no per se, no reliance on repeating motifs. Instead, Lea lays a sound-bed of levitating notes and bends her violin to swell and swoon to the tune of a kind of birdsong, sometimes vaguely Middle Eastern, sometimes vaguely Romantic. On Bandcamp, Lea said “this improvisational composition invokes imagery of stormy skies and leaves swirling in the wind.” It’s a fitting epigraph, the music less concerned with making grandiose statements than eliciting the sentiment behind a narrative thread, a colorful detail, a moment lived. Lea isn’t moving mountains with “Rebuild;” she’s asking her listeners to join her in a ritual of the moment and about the moment. Many hearts are aching these days as we find ourselves hiding from the novel coronavirus at home, washing hands frequently, sanitizing everything but our emotions. Lea taps into that zeitgeist to offer a moment of calm, merely a few minutes to pause, exhale and reflect. Should you choose to do it with her, I think you, too, will breathe a little easier. – Justin Vellucci, MusicTAP, April 7, 2020

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