Cello

REVIEW: Laura Wolf - Stitch One

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Phillipe Roberts

In an Old Spruce Sessions video released in August of this year, Laura Wolf performs two songs off of her latest EP, Stitch One. The rendition of “Circles” is spare and lovely, but it’s her version of “Good” that truly shines. On the album, the track feels spacious; her strong voice, the various cello melodies, finger-picked guitar, and percussive slaps are panned and separated, breathing into one another. Live, sheltered from a sudden storm in a tiny tractor shed, Wolf gradually weaves the song into shape, each layer perfectly visible for an instant as she threads it into place. Though it takes a full two minutes longer to perform, seeing the bones of the track laid bare does much to peel back the artistry at work in Laura Wolf’s songwriting. Hearing them sewn up and refreshed on Stitch One, the songs take on a grandiose new scale. It’s a wholly different experience, but a rewarding one if you give them time to reveal themselves.

Perhaps the only fault in those live sessions, and live looping in general, is the destructive electronic effects of piling on so many layers. And if the live version of “Good” is any indication, Laura Wolf’s songs are dense; she pauses to add handclaps and slaps to the bridge of her cello for percussion as well as two switches from her primary instrument to the guitar slung over her back. The sounds end up squashed, each piece losing some of its distinct tonal character.

Stitch One does away with the distortion, and the clarity allows the remarkable amount of arranged detail to spring out at you. “Circles” gains a ghostly instrumental interlude with melodic screeching as the strings flutter in the distance. The added low end on “Body Part” drives the beat harder, giving the track an epic, anthemic feel, and the slight solo just before the outro feels gritty but optimistically adventurous.

For the most part, Laura Wolf’s vocals lean towards folk, but there’s a clear theatrical element at key parts that heightens the emotional drama at play. This influence is most keenly felt on “Stitch Two,” where her intense vibrato meanders through folk guitar, erupts in a pre-climactic roar, and descends back into gentle arpeggiations before her triumphant belting dissolves into multi-part harmony. By comparison, the slow, heartbreaking story of “Chinese Finger Trap” contains a few lofty moments, but takes a more straightforward melodic approach to sifting through the rubble of a broken relationship.

Wolf ends her first EP with a brooding instrumental that serves as the title track. “Stitch One” blooms out of a mournful yet cinematic melody; the scope feels huge, suggesting wide-open spaces while filling them with slight dissonances that press in at the margins. But steadily over the course of the song, brighter and bolder harmonies slip in until the track is spilling over with light at its close. It's a fitting end for a record so invested in the healing power of process.

PREMIERE: Laura Wolf - Good

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Laura Kerry

Laura Wolf is a one-woman orchestra. In live shows, she drapes herself in instruments, trading her cello for electric guitar and vocals as she builds complex songs one voice at a time with the help of a loop pedal. “Good,” the first release from Wolf’s upcoming debut LP, Stitch One, models the artist’s process beautifully. Beginning with a low, urgent cello patter—a steady foundation almost all the way through—she adds escalating lines of cello that swell and recede in intriguing rhythms. Percussion enters, breathy at first, then more substantial, followed by quiet electric guitar arpeggios.

Throughout the course of “Good,” Wolf’s vocals also build. At the start of the song, her voice is soft and pretty, carrying leaping, intricate melodies that sound light and optimistic. When she first sings the refrain, “I’m just trying to be good,” it tapers into a near-whisper, then dances delicately in a high register. As “Good” develops, though, it darkens. Wolf first started working on Stitch One while in the hospital last year, and the song alludes to that setting and her experiences there. In the bridge, she half-sings, half-speaks about a knife in her back, snarling, “I jumped every time they touched my fucking spine” as a chorus of voices repeats “I just want to be good” in the background.

Transitioning from soft to tough and gritty, the song suggests that the effort to be good—healthy, virtuous, or otherwise—can be challenging. In her new release, Wolf meets the challenge with a lush and distinctive sound. Check it out on "Good," and keep an eye out for Stitch One, out soon.