Reconciling ourselves with our own incapabilities in the face of world-imposed pains such as natural disasters and transportation accidents can feel unbearable, especially when it comes to those we love. While the inevitability of these universal realities is out of our hands, the ways in which we respond to such indigestible discomforts, in choosing to flee or stay faithfully through, is within our control. In her sixth, self-titled album Laura Stevenson, Stevenson comes to terms with this truth following the tragic accident of a loved one. From feelings of seething rage to confessions of formerly fleeing from similar experiences, Stevenson’s acknowledgment of her own powerlessness within her loved one’s situation is what allows her to stand loyally by them. In allowing herself to feel a gradation of anger she would have formerly run from, it is her newfound comfortability with this cognizance that instills her with the strength to carry her loved one through. Commonly known as an unwaveringly vulnerable artist who has been consistently candid with her struggles of domestic abuse, depression and self-harm, Stevenson takes a conscious step back on this album, choosing situational ambiguity as a means to bring her listeners closer; a choice that not only protects the privacy of her hurting loved one, but one that challenges listeners to think critically, and to come to terms with the painful realities of their own lives.
In order to come to terms with her powerlessness within her loved one’s situation, Stevenson must first feel an anger she formerly refused to understand. By using stoicism as her means of emotional exploration in “State,” she lets herself enter “in[to] a state” of deeply felt pain “that keeps [her] alive” and allows her to emotionally persevere. By sourcing the roots for her resilience in interior rage, Stevenson further explores the nuances of her anger through the exposure of an internal world. In allowing fury to infiltrate her mind during daily tasks of waiting for her “kettle [to] cool” when making tea and driving while “making a three quarter turn,” Stevenson sheds her own fears about feeling by allowing herself to process anger around the clock.
This self-authorization allows Stevenson’s anger to organically build. By using songwriting as a pathway towards emotional liberation, tracks such as “Wretch” and “Sandstorm” permit Stevenson the cathartic release stoicism barred her from accessing. In allowing her feelings to naturally intensify with “ballistic missiles” and rage, Stevenson cultivates a desire to be taken “down from the inside out” so that she no longer has to feel. Though, by simply acknowledging this desire and not actively giving in to it, music permits Stevenson the emotional expression she needs to show her that she can handle all that she formerly feared.
By shedding fear over the pain of her own powerlessness, Stevenson can be fully present when in the company of her hurting loved one. In being able to handle her own emotions, Stevenson now allows the “motor” of pain to “rumble over” and “under [her]” when spending time with them in “After Those Who Mean It.” This newfound capability instills her with the strength to make amends with her past self, and the regrets she holds over how she has treated those she deeply cared for in the past.
She confronts these past emotional limits in “Moving Cars,” when sitting with her loved one as they “are staring out” into the distance. This reflective time pushes Stevenson to recount her emotional role in her relationships, spurring her to stumble upon the realization that she has often been the person who “jump[s] out of sight of moving cars” and runs from pain when confronted with it. While this truth is hard to acknowledge, the song serves as a symbol of her emotional growth, as Stevenson’s physical presence with her hurting loved one shows that she is no longer running from feelings of pain. Instead, she is standing courageously in front of the speed of hurt’s car, allowing herself to bear an emotional impact she once felt too afraid to face.
While Stevenson has made emotional strides in overcoming her desire to escape from pain, she allows herself the ability to indulge in the fantasy of a painless world that cannot hurt the people that she loves in “Continental Divide.” As she continues sitting with her loved one, she “prays that sleep would take [them] for a bit,” so that they no longer have to endure their own “shaking body” and can be freed of the physical pain that has been irrationally imposed upon them. This song elucidates the roots of Stevenson’s former desire to run from discomfort, as the fantasy for a painless world exposes her feelings of powerlessness in the face of its reality of inescapable suffering. As she dreams for the ability to “keep [her loved one] safe all of their life,” Stevenson wrestles with her own inability to; a feeling she is learning to live harmoniously alongside, as she now sees that her refusal to accept it hurts not only herself, but those that she loves.
Through dreaming, imagining a painless world gives Stevenson the emotional break she needs to rebuild her strength, and face her past actions. While Stevenson has allowed listeners an insight into the sentiments of her internal world, “Sky Blue Bad News” and “Mary” extend her emotional reach into the external one. As she looks towards a future where she can “make amends to everyone [she] has left standing” she wishes for them to understand her past mistakes, and “throw [their] mercy at [her].” While she knows her past actions cannot be undone, and that she can’t recreate her presence within moments that are now absent, she is learning to become comfortable with these inevitable realities. In acknowledging her own powerlessness in the face of world-imposed suffering and her inability to reconstruct the past, Stevenson is able to feel at peace when she acknowledges that the world is both beautiful and painful, as the “sky is bright blue, waiting on bad news.”
As the album comes to a close, “Children’s National Transfer” dualizes the lessons Stevenson has learned, as she discovers she is pregnant during the creation of this album. As she stands in a grocery store and “finger[s] through the rows of chips,” she realizes that “no one knows [her] in the store,” and that all we really have in this world are the people who we love. In abandoning her former fears and developing the strength to be loyal to those she cares for in a world she lacks complete control over, she is now able to enter into this new phase of life with the confidence that she can be there for, not only herself, but her child.
Following the terrible accident of a loved one, Laura Stevenson felt suffocated by a cage of rage only possible to free through musical release. Through the course of her sixth album, Stevenson takes us through the entirety of her emotional journey, from unrelenting anger to an acceptance of her own incapabilities. As Stevenson discovers her first pregnancy when working on this album, her music takes on a new meaning, as her pain transforms into a strength that allows her to bring her child into this world with a newfound confidence in her ability to be there for them. In staying loyal to a hurting loved one, beauty and grief find company in Laura Stevenson, with external and internal suffering sourcing the roots for emotional rebirth.