EDITOR’S NOTE: As album releases slow down in December, we like to catch our breath and write about albums that came out earlier in the year that we didn’t get a chance to review but we think are worthy of your attention. Geist was released in October.
Shannon Lay has never needed much more than her melodious voice for her songs to grab hold of you. On the hymnic “Awaken and Allow,” from her fourth album, Geist, Lay leaves behind the acoustic guitar that usually accompanies her and lets her voice be in the spotlight. “Awaken and Allow” is the centerpiece of Geist, capturing the meditative headspace Lay is in across the album and the push and pull of wanting to stay present and to transform that’s always at play. “Do not stop change in favor of comfort / A bud cannot resist to bloom,” she sings, one of the many pearls of wisdom that Lay has to offer on Geist.
There’s an airiness to Geist — both Lay’s voice and accompanying instrumentation are exquisite sounding and almost always feel like they are floating — but it’s not a record that passes through you like a gust of wind. Lay’s songwriting is direct and these songs stay with you long after they have drifted off, largely because of how multidimensional Lay’s reflections are. The opening track, “Rare to Wake,” has a roving melody to it that perfectly matches Lay’s curiosity (“have I always been who I am?” she asks) and on “A Thread to Find,” all of her past selves swirl around her (“you’re on your own, but not alone”).
In a music video for “Awaken and Allow” and the album’s title track, Lay arrives at a venue for soundcheck, unpacks her guitar, and slowly walks to the stage. Each motion is thoughtfully calculated. But just before ascending a flight of stairs, she pauses and we are transported with her to a beach where water laps behind her. This brief moment of dissociation is a perfect visual representation of the layers of Geist: it’s a record that will remind you to make time for reflection but to not get lost in it. There’s so much to live for in the present too.
And then suddenly Lay is back in her present. She greets the band, gets on stage, and performs the album’s title track. “Eyes can’t tell all truth,” she sings. “Feel within.”