Most musicians never manage one song about music without seeming too earnest or embarrassed; Pretty Girls Make Graves had a good one a few years ago, and I’m always into hearing “Sweet Soul Music” when it comes on the oldies station. On her bewitching third album, Seattle-based singer-songwriter Laura Veirs pulls off two. The lesser is “The Cloud Room,” which probes music’s ethereality and timelessness—there’s a seagull, and stormy weather, and a drunk guy playing piano in the bar on the 12th floor of Seattle’s Camlin Hotel. But Veirs, a sort of low-powered Cat Power, plucks out her electric-guitar arpeggios over a heavy beat punctuated with handclaps and swooning strings, so she resists floating through the air with flowers in her hair. In “Rapture” she worries over the “fate of Kurt Cobain, junk coursing through his veins”—only she doesn’t really fret all that much, and her placid acoustic guitar and crappy keyboard bleeps provide cold comfort for anyone wondering if “love of color, sound, and words” is “a blessing or a curse.” It’s a haunting tone poem that doesn’t explain or investigate or even celebrate, but instead makes new mystery out of old.
Laura Veirs plays the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center February 24.