It’s quite amazing that Laura Gibson‘s Empire Builder is named after a notable train journey, one she spent a lot of time travelling on for this record. It also serves to highlight just how romantic the States are compared to the UK – in this country, we’d probably be listening to something that complains about the woes of a points failure at Stevenage while having to pay extortionate amounts for WiFi on the Pendolino.
What Gibson crafts here, however, is something truly wonderful. These are her stories, by turns assured in strident production (The Cause) or pared down with simple folk storytelling. Damn Sure takes two simple words and constructs a tale that you cannot shy away from, wrapped as always in her honeyed vocals. Elsewhere, she’s moved away from her slightly twee past to create more robust structures around songs like Not Harmless and Two Kids.
But it’s the middle third that really nails this as one of Gibson’s finest works. The title track is soul-baring finery (“this is not an escape/ but I don’t know how to hold someone without losing my grip”), Five And Thirty is an elegiac slow-burner that has Gibson chasing shadows, and The Search For Dark Lake takes a string-backing to Gibson’s wistful couplets. Despite its dark background, it’s enough to make us want to take a trip on the eponymous rail itself, if only to marvel at this little empire Laura Gibson has made for herself.