What's not to love about a local, independent musician? I met Laura at my best friends' wedding reception, where she was very helpful in vandalizing the car, and wound up being a fun partner with whom to sing "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" by The Darkness. I actually didn't know she was an independent musician living in the D.C. until she mentioned that she would be at an upcomming benefit show. I responded that I review CD's, and she handed me a copy of her CD with the warning to "be gentle."
She needn't have worried.
It's rare for me to be satisfied with an entire CD on a first listen. Some notable exceptions include Interpol, Death Cab for Cutie, and The Appleseed Cast. Stylistically, Ms. Burhenn is not related to any of these bands. Not even a bit. Yet, I found myself instantly grooving along to her gentle soft pop.
Laura is a student of Fiona Apple. Luckily, she is merely a student and not an imitator—the music scene is not ready for another brash, sultry-voiced vixen spinning jazzy tales of love and loss. Her voice is where this is most evident, and on a superficial level Laura's voice is Apple-ish (I've waited a long time for a reason to say "apple-ish"). Luckily for her, she doesn't fall into the over-wrought trap Fiona did. Even when at her most expressive, Laura's voice barely rises above speaking level (Fiona was famous for belting her voice away, which ruined many of her live shows).
There is another superficial resemblence to Fiona Apple as well: Laura is not only her own songwriter, but she also plays the piano and (in a step above and beyond Fiona's many contributions to the genre) self-produced her entire album. Some more Fiona comparisons? I think not—this is definitely the work of a highly creative individual, and to pigeonhole Laura into such a relatively small space would be a grave injustice.
Laura avoids the traps Fiona fell into: she's not obsessed with her own precociousness, she doesn't turn her diary into mealy-mouthed screeds against men, she doesn't mouth off and make herself into a self-parody. How can a young woman in her 20's write music with such authority, such wisdom, such learned panache? I will probably never know, but it's magical to hear.
For starters, this should not be listened to in the car. Wanderlust is not driving, it is not upbeat, it is not energizing. Rather, this album was custom-made for late night, for times when friends are hanging out, or for rainy days spent in bed with the headphones turned up high. All of this is a good thing, too—sonic restraint is a trait that is too often ignored by most artists todays (Norah Jones is an obvious exception). Being comfortable with quiet is a bit of subtlety lost on many young musicians. I have much more respect for musicians (singers, especially) who can remain dynamic, interesting, and tonal while in a near whisper (Bjork is one of my favorite examples of this). Laura exemplifies it as well, and her smooth croon is a welcome foundation for the rest of her songs.