t pains me to hear “coffee table” used as a term of disparagement, in relation to music. I mean, don’t we all like to kick back and put on a little Morcheeba or Lemon Jelly when we’re feeling blue? Coffee table has given us many great things- Blue Lines, polished-oak shoe gazers Sigur Ros, and Texas’ “Say What You Want” - to name just three. So, the next time someone uses “coffee table” as a diss, steal all the excellent coffee table albums from their collection, and forbid them from listening to them again. Then we’ll see how they like it. Heh.
So, coffee table is MOR music which retains a veneer of cutting-edge innovation. It won’t frighten houseguests away, but may lead them to believe that you keep up with musical trends. This music is “useful”, which probably leads people to the conclusion that it’s boringly functional and only possessed of display values (and not actually something anyone would want to listen to when there is no-one else around to notice). Historically, though, this has not been the case with most coffee-table albums: the best ones have balanced cosy harmlessness with much easy-going loveliness.
This is shaping up to be another good year for coffee table (has their ever been a bad one???? Not in recent memory). Air have re-embraced the dinner-party set with the delightful Talkie Walkie, while Norah Jones just got even better with Feels Like Home. And now, Laura Veirs delivers this gem. It should be filed in the “night-time singer-songwriter” bracket of coffee-table - melodic, easy-on-the-ear: but with enough electronic doodles and warm keyboard swirls to suggest there is something Deeper going on.
It’s an ambient record, in many ways. The mood of glacial calm rarely lets up, but after a couple of listens it will have become quite intoxicating. Standout tracks: solemn banjo-driven ballad “Icebound Stream” and creepy instrumental “Blackened Anchor”. But like many good coffee table albums, this doesn’t benefit from separating or distinguishing tracks. Just put on repeat, chat to guests, but don’t forget to put the CD case where they can see it. Hopefully word-of-mouth will then spread - as it did with Norah Jones (and Moby’s Play). Then Laura Veirs may have a deserved hit on her hands.
The list of reasons to embrace coffee table is growing. We all need music to play at our dinner parties, don’t we? Carbon Glacier fits the bill nicely.
Reviewed by: Kilian Murphy
Reviewed on: 2004-03-16