With more than twenty studio albums and a slew of EPs, live recordings, and compilations to their names, the sophisticated sirens of song Neko Case, k.d. Lang, and Laura Veirs each have little left to prove to the music world. There’s freedom to be found in relinquishing the weight of others’ expectations, and this may largely explain why the trio’s newfound collaboration sounds so magical, so flawless.
“We’ve all had issues of feeling that we don’t belong for some reason, or we’re not fitting,” Veirs confided to Portland Monthly last month. “But I think it’s been great, spiritually, for all of us to just shed that stuff.” Indeed, throughout the expanse of their eponymous debut album that arrives in stores this Friday, June 17th, case/lang/veirs sound—both collectively and individually—more enlivened and enchanting than ever before.
With an all lowercase group moniker that seems to suggest the shared humility and egalitarianism of its revered singer-songwriters, the threesome have successfully tempered their egos, while celebrating their differences, to create one of the year’s most unequivocally stunning song suites.
“We definitely came at it knowing that it was going to be a strange situation, because all three of us are alpha personalities who run our own bands,” Case recently admitted to Lenny. “We're all in charge of ourselves, and we do things in very different ways. k.d. is at the big music industry end of the spectrum and has done all the huge things you can do. Laura has been doing her own DIY thing, putting her band together by herself and giving it to record companies later. I'm in the middle of the two. It was an interesting fit.” An interesting fit that has spawned an album that is far from just interesting. It’s divine.
Recorded in Lang and Veirs’ Portland, Oregon stomping grounds and produced by the accomplished soundsmith (and Veirs’ husband) Tucker Martine, case/lang/veirs clocks in at an efficient 43 minutes spanning 14 tracks. You’ll find no meandering, superfluously long compositions here. Instead, you’ll discover a seductive suite of expertly conceived and exquisitely executed songs that make lasting imprints despite—or presumably, because of—their brevity.
Fortunately, the album eschews the predictable, cookie-cutter 1-2-3 harmonies for a far more balanced approach, one that finds the threesome equally comfortable with sharing the same vocal space as they are in playing a supporting role while deferring the spotlight to one. The soaring album opener and lead single “Atomic Number” is truly an ensemble act, with all three vocalists guiding the song in roughly equal measure, as they explore the rejection of edifice and persona, in exchange for a return to one’s true identity and purpose in life.
To be sure, the handful of songs propelled by Case’s honey-soaked voice wouldn’t have seemed out of place on her most recent LP, 2013’s wonderful The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. But they also augur great things to come on her next studio project, which is hopefully on the near horizon. Case has always possessed an uncanny penchant for evocative lyrics, whether metaphorical or more direct, and with refrains like “Do you know? / I’m the only thing between you / and that heartbreak feeling” on the wistful “Delerium,” her songwriting chops are in top form once again.
Her other standouts consist of the stirring, acoustic guitar-driven “Behind the Armory,” the lilting “Supermoon,” which began as Veirs’ ode to her son until Case weaved in allusions to the American dream of venture capitalism, and “Down,” an inspired tribute to the I-5 mainline highway that runs parallel to the Pacific. Punctuated by William Blake indebted references to “sweet delights” and “endless nights,” the latter track evokes the open road’s promise of invincibility and eternity, as best encapsulated within the closing verse “Driving down I-5 / I don't ever want to die / Cause I'd no more get to see / All this beauty passing by me.”
Echoing the dichotomy between one’s public and private identities first heard on “Atomic Number,” and the different types of love and understanding that each invite, the dreamy “Honey and Smoke” showcases the elegance and polish we’ve come to expect from Lang. Likewise on her gorgeously subdued torch song “Blue Fires” and languid lament for a disconnected love “1,000 Miles Away.”
Seldom do you hear a love song penned for a bandmate, at least one devoid of romantic undertones, but the shimmering “Best Kept Secret” is precisely this. One of the album’s finest moments, Veirs dedicates the uptempo ballad to her band’s guitarist Tim Young, the presumptive “best kept secret in Silver Lake,” who also plays across case/lang/veirs.
Veirs also scores triumphs with her heartfelt homage to ‘70s singer-songwriter Judee Sill “Song for Judee,” the rolling, strings-laden love song “Greens of June” bolstered by hypnotic melodies and vocal layering reminiscent of Fleet Foxes’ enveloping soundscapes, and “Georgia Stars” which unfurls in exciting fashion and concludes the whole affair on an invigorated note.
A tutorial in how best to synthesize the respective strengths of multiple creators while elevating their unique charms, Case, Lang and Veirs’ inaugural effort is a contemporary masterpiece of crystalline beauty, unfettered grace, and revelatory depth. Guaranteed to give its listeners incurable goosebumps and spine-tingling chills upon first and repeated listens, case/lang/veirs is simply wonderful.
Notable Tracks: “Atomic Number” | “Behind the Armory” | “Best Kept Secret” | “Greens of June” | “Honey and Smoke” | “Supermoon”