Shannon Lay – August review

by Craig Howieson

Infused with the misty morning haze that follows a revelatory night, August is the sound of morning dew glistening on cracked ceiling tiles; like shards of light infiltrating our, at times, bleak surroundings. Lay possesses an ease with which to stretch out momentary glances. Harnessing the gut-punching power of folk, she creates rose-coloured postcards to look back on and cherish. With an already enviable back catalogue of work behind her – two solo records, as well as two albums as a member of the sublime post-punk outfit FEELS – August marks her fifth full length release since 2016.

The title of the record has been well documented: the month in which Lay quit her day job in 2017 to focus on music full time; a life choice only emboldened by the perilous state of the music industry. Many people build gated communities around themselves; thresholds are set, levels of comfort established and adhered to. It is an act that in turn prohibits challenges to the status quo. The call to follow one’s dreams goes unheard for the risk is too high, and the fear of failure too strong. Lay refuses to construct such walls, never holding back the flood, but letting it wash over her. As she stated in a recent interview with For The Rabbits – ‘You’ve got to try and do what you love because why else are we here – what’s the point? I think the biggest win in life is to enjoy it. I think that’s like the biggest fuck you to this world.’

August is a celebration – relishing in the freedom that comes with committing to something you love. It is a sentiment Lay captures perfectly on her beautiful cover of Karen Dalton’s Something on Your Mind:Didn’t you know, you can’t make it without ever even trying?”

Despite being steeped in folk traditions, Lay has plugged into an eclectic undercurrent on August – channelling psych rock, dream pop and new wave jazz elements into her direct song writing. Few of the tracks stretch beyond the three minute mark, but within each, Lay succinctly forms a narrative arc that offers up the time required to tell her story.

Death Up Close opens the album with plucked guitar and voice before being startled by Mikal Cronin’s flourish of saxophone mid-way through. From that point, the track layers upon itself, building a tower to the skies as Lay considers at what point, if ever, you become content with your lot in life (‘We’ve seen so much and there’s more yet’). The charming pop-folk of Shuffling Stoned is one of the record’s simplest, yet most heartwarming moments – a fragmented memory laid to barely moving guitar that finds Lay’s voice awash with spine tingling purity.

Ty Segal produced the record and his experimental side can be felt in the composition. The alternative fringes of the ‘60s and ‘70s alternative scenes, which inform much of his own work, also echo through August, lifting it out of a specific time and place. The album’s title track flourishes with a wild urgency. A stern wind billows through its sails as Laena Geronimo from FEELS adds ponderous swells of violin to its country tinged canter.

The album closes with the hushed gaze of The Dream. Electric guitar and vocals warp and delay, as one simple line is repeated: ‘It seems to me all a dream.’ It is as if Lay cannot quite believe the position she has found herself in, and that within the repetition of this closing lyric she is looking to convince even herself. However, this is not a dream lacking foundations in reality. And if for Lay it is a dream come true, it is one of her own making. One that she has pursued to ensure it comes into reality. Given her prolific nature and the standard of her output to date, it is also one we are all lucky to be sharing in.

Secret Meeting score: 86


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