Shannon Lay's intoxicating Living Water

She has the startling, Day-Glo hair of, say, someone like indie pop-elf Grimes, but do not let those orange locks fool you into thinking she trades in the flashiest, craziest, biggest beats too.

Far from it - the Los Angeles-based songstress Shannon Lay's own solo input possesses the quietest magic of cult folk iconoclasts.

The 27-year-old's second album, Living Water, recalls the intoxicating, pellucid records of yore, such as Nick Drake's Pink Moon (1972) and Vashti Bunyan's Just Another Diamond Day (1970), which she cites as touchstones.

This is appropriate - when one is immersed in tenderly fingerpicked melodies, it is easy to lose time in them. But, there is a feeling there is much more you have yet to mine. She has crystallised life and it is captivating in its unknowability.

"There's always room for a little more/And there's always reason for a little less," goes the cryptic couplet in Always Room, one of the numerous tracks that close in around two minutes and less. "Life is confusing, and we are asleep," she adds. In her precise, yet unsentimentally dry delivery, she may just be smiling.

It can be as intimate yet amazingly open as The Moons Detriment. "If I were to know you/I'll show you all the little things," she sings softly, in an ode to the vastness of nature or, rather, a burgeoning spigot of affection for someone else, the love that swells like "like an eager new river channel".



    Shannon Lay


    4/5 stars

Vocally, she juxtaposes proximity and spaciousness. Listen to the opening track Home - a lonely sliver of violin introduces softly caressing guitar, and her voice, spry and breathy, lines the inexorably searching melody, caught between rest and restlessness.

Another track, Coast, switches between incredibly frenetic riffs and jazzy, languorous drums, between discretion and violence, so much so that you never quite know when to push, when to let go.

Therein lies the beauty of Lay's humble, humbling work.

With an observant eye for nature's ways and an ear for the rhythms of the heart, she intuits life's bountiful lessons.

"I have lived without your touch/For so long that it fades from my memory/I'm so hungry for your touch," she addresses an absent loved one in Recording 15.

"Should I forget you/Should I hold on to/Those precious days?" she asks, flitting between wistfulness and permanent loss. The answer floats by before you know it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2017, with the headline 'Life's bountiful lessons'. Print Edition | Subscribe