THERE IS INFINITE wisdom in the white lines of the highway; why else do so many follow them? From the warring coasts, on through the most barren landscapes, amid dry grass and bright ochre, and exposed under relentless desert suns, weary travelers have trod the various tributaries of pavement around the country in search of something more.
Touring musicians are modern-day disciples of those lines, and Little Scream's Laurel Sprengelmeyer is filing right in with the rest—such is the case when you come bearing an important message. In this instance, that pending proliferation is Little Scream's debut album, The Golden Record, a work of tall climbs that lead to flattop buttes, full of quiet, arduous moments that explode into sweeping vistas of diverse landscapes—sometimes crystal clear, other times buried in glittering fog.
The record itself was co-produced by Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry. "Richard and I are great creative collaborators," says Sprengelmeyer of the pair's efforts. "We have really similar musical aesthetics, and working on this record came along really naturally because of that." A cross-section of their work can be found in the song "Cannons." Initially, it sounds almost identical to an Arcade Fire song, with that familiar barrage of driving piano, wrecking-ball distortion, and quavering atmospheric synths. However, when the dust settles Little Scream's musical style peers out through the din, especially with the phrase "The cannons in the park and point them/Straight into your heart," then a few harmonics are lightly tapped on the guitar, and the sparer elements and ultimately the beauty, as utterly tenuous as it feels at times, of the music shines.
That loveliness continues right on through the next track, "The Heron and the Fox," a simple and poised acoustic ballad that, while wonderfully melodic, hinges on the strength of Sprengelmeyer's coldwater-clear vocals. An entirely heartbreaking moment occurs when she finds herself careening in a higher register in the chorus, on the phrase: "Caroline as my witness/I never meant to cause you pain."
Back to the dust, though. Possibly one of the most interesting tracks on the record is "Guyegaros," a song built around the story of Alfredo Gallegos Lara, a gun-wielding, guitar-strumming Catholic priest from Guanajuato, Mexico, that Sprengelmeyer heard mention of on the radio in 2005. It is a haunting song, drenched in a sort of desert-showdown feel that is more No Country for Old Men than singing-cowboy western; it takes its 10 paces awful slow. It is a perfect soundtrack for the story that's in your head while you listen. Of its existence, Sprengelmeyer says, "When I heard the story, I pictured a character in a film, probably by Tarantino or Antonioni. I imagined the desert dust on his snakeskin boots..."
At the time this article is being written, Little Scream is in a van moving through the sprawling state of Texas, to the place where the music industry really puffs up its broad chest and struts around: South by Southwest. It's her first year playing the festival, and while it was once the fabled golden shores for lesser-known bands, SXSW's inevitable growth has flooded the streets so that talent becomes near indistinguishable. It's not likely, though, that Little Scream will be caught floundering in the chaos of downtown Austin this year; we'll be hearing a lot more from her white-line ministry.