Album review: Shannon Lay – Geist
A quiet and sincere testimony to growth
Shannon Lay showcases beauty in simplicity on her latest solo release. Geist, named after the German word for “spirit,” intimately captures moments of love, reflection and change in Lay’s life. Recorded in the middle of last year’s lockdown, Geist explores these universal feelings while solidifying Lay’s artist voice in the process.
The album opens with “Rare to Wake”, which immediately sets the album’s warm tone. The soft guitar fingering dampens Lay’s wispy, layered vocals, along with a recurring keyboard, which almost acts like a second voice for Lay. “A Thread to Find” follows similar instrumentation, this time adding string orchestral accompaniment and leaning more into keyboard sounds for added texture. Along with these musical choices, one cannot ignore Lay’s lyricism, which uses naturalistic elements to illustrate growth and change.
“Of course” changes the themes slightly, focusing on the love Lay has for her partner. Even without considering the heartfelt lyrics, the track radiates those feelings sonically, fitting into a lullaby-like waltz and once again featuring simplistic instrumentation. Bass strings create bass drones with a deep warmth that envelops the listener like an embrace. These drones linger after the song ends as if Lay herself doesn’t want those feelings to ever end. After these soothing feelings of love, “Shores”, which echoes the atmosphere of the previous track. However, a somewhat jarring and aggressively mixed electric guitar function in the middle of the track pulls the listener out of the rather quiet trance created up to this point.
The middle of Geist presents some of his most compelling tracks. “Awaken and Allow” is a masterclass on the balance between tension and catharsis. This track opens with Lay’s stunning acapella vocals, reminiscent of traditional Irish songs by Sean-NÃ³s, highlighting Lay’s folk inspirations. As Lay describes his need to move, literally and figuratively, buzzing instruments slowly build up underneath. This turmoil reaches a breaking point towards the end of the song, but Lays’ determined voice never falters. After that highlight is the title track, which delves into the simplicity presented at the start of the album and does so with great success.
“Untitled” refers to the intensity found in “Awaken and Allow”, with a slowed down tempo and feelings of serenity, but uncertainty. These elements, along with the repetitive lyricism, the use of minor mode and striking percussive qualities, create a haunting atmosphere. Although a little out of place on the auditory front, his thematic material fits in with Lay’s goal of emphasizing that growth and change is not a purely linear road.
In the last position of the album, Geist loses some of its momentum with “Late Night” and “Time’s Arrow”. While none of the tracks are weak individually, they don’t stand out like the other tracks. However, the closing instrumental track âJulyâ provides a satisfactory conclusion to Geist. With a calm interplay between guitar melody, string accompaniment, and keyboard texture, this final track begs the listener to find their own contemplations within the framework laid out by Lay.
In an interview with Twirl, Lay says that by writing Geist, she “wanted to embrace what is so special about music that [she] creates, that is, it requires a certain amount of stillness. With its simplistic and intimate tracklist and sincere personal themes, Geist captures the beauty of this stillness and is a testament to Lay’s own growth both as an artist and as a person.