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Laura Gibson And Ethan Rose: Ethereal And Unpredictable

Don't let Laura Gibson's quiet voice fool you: A soothing lozenge in human form, she may sing sheepishly, but she's an inventive and commanding presence. As her career progresses, Gibson has reached well beyond singer-songwriter conventions. Her 2009 album Beasts of Seasons, for example, finds her exploring issues of death and rebirth amid hypnotically beautiful and affecting arrangements. And now, on Bridge Carols, she teams up with experimental musician Ethan Rose to craft a series of artily nonlinear, spliced-together songs and fragments.

As with Justin Vernon's similarly ethereal and unpredictable Volcano Choir, Bridge Carols doesn't cohere into anything recognizable as conventional songwriting. Pretty and engaging, "Younger" is nearly seven minutes of loose, improvisational, drawn-out wistfulness; the overall effect is akin to being let in on someone's gauzily lovely dream. Ruminating sweetly on flight, youth, fantasy, horses and wordless conversations, she pines vaguely ("Where have you gone, my darkest star?") against Rose's soothing instrumental backdrop. The effect achieves the exact combination that's become Gibson's trademark: a sense of looming gloom, cut with a sweetness that's unmistakably soothing.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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