Héloïse Letissier, a.k.a. Christine and the Queens
Established folk Americana singer-songwriter Laura Veirs and up-and-coming French artist Héloïse Letissier (a.k.a. Christine and the Queens) each released wonderful albums in the past year that deserve our review and your sampling.
Two Beers Veirs
Laura is an accomplished Portland-based songwriter. In the 1990s she studied Chinese and geology at Carleton College in Minnesota, where she also became a member of an all-girl punk band. In 1999, she released her first album, appropriately self-titled. Over subsequent years, Laura deepened her talents through collaborations with Bill Frisell, Colin Meloy, Jim James, Béla Fleck, and Sufjan Stevens. Her husband and music collaborator Tucker Martine has added sophisticated musical elements and sound editing to her last nine albums. Laura seems to be brimming with confidence and poise on this new EP.
On Two Beers Veirs, Laura offers a blend of traditional Americana songs woven together with her own compositions. The results are coherent, magically aligned, beautifully produced, and delicately delivered.
Here are my recommended songs from Two Beers Veirs:
• “Freight Train” was written by Elizabeth Cotten as a teenager in the early 1900s. It was inspired by the sound of trains rumbling down the tracks near her home in North Carolina. Laura’s delicate instrumental breaks bring authenticity to the tradition of early Americana.
• “Spike Driver’s Blues” is an adaptation of a traditional song called “John Henry” that was first recorded by Mississippi John Hurt in 1928.
• “Wasps of Rain” is one of Laura’s compositions beautifully sung with uncertain lyrics about what appears to be a lamented incident. The song’s last verse reminds us that “every maker and every game / will be measured / by the wasps of rain.”
• For an additional treat from 2013, check out “Shape Shifter,” which is my all-time favorite Laura Veirs track.
Christine and the Queens
This musical project is guided by Héloïse Letissier, who hails from France and sings both in English and her native tongue. She often performs on stage with modern dancers, who blend with her synth-pop images about life and love. Many of the songs are minimalist productions with sputtering beats, slightly washed electronic shimmers, and ghostly background vocals. Her vocals range from vulnerable to defiant as she explores the challenges of her life as a gay woman.
The lyrics speak to Héloïse’s continuous inner dialogue on the world’s often unforgiving judgment about the LGBT reality. Tinged with sadness and vulnerability, these songs are bold and empowering, yet may also send you dancing across the room. Sung alternatively in French and English, the tracks create a marvelous, hopeful mood with kind intent.
Begin with “No Harm Is Done,” “Tilted,” “Narcissus is Back”, and “Saint Claude.” On “Tilted,” the lyrics affirm:
“But, I’m actually good / can’t help it if we’re tilted / I’m actually good.” And Christine’s beautiful and simple approach to her music makes us believers. More good music will be coming from this young lady.
Laura Veirs and Héloïse Letissier come from different musical genres, but their uncluttered simplicity and pure beauty in performance both enrich the lives of listeners.