Glass House in Outer Space, the new LP from Durham singer-songwriter Anna Rose Beck, starts off jagged and gentle. A finger-picked nylon string guitar runs counter to a defeated 3 a.m. shuffle, punctuating Beck's dejected imagery and keeping the listener from getting too comfortable. The song grooves, but it's hard to groove to.
The central message of Beck's second record follows that juxtaposition: Life moves on, even when you're not ready. It can be a pretty bleak listen, as when she sings, "Sometimes I disappear in my mind/ just thinking on how things might have been/ if there were no bitter end" on "I Wish." It's the kind of grown-up breakup song that epitomizes this corner of folk music, built upon double entendres about mortality and failed relationships.
Glass House is best when Beck balances such naked admissions with powerful, poetic imagery. During the caustic, bitter opener "Bandaid," the collection's strongest track, she describes herself "drinking spoiled, week-old wine." Sometimes these metaphors end up overextended and over-complex, making for songs that fall flat. Despite including a wonderfully dark line about bones heavier than snow, "Blackbird" is built on figurative language too dense to comprehend. Folk is essentially a verbal form; when the imagery doesn't work, what could otherwise be poetry ends up a flood of words.
Beck's willingness to dwell in lonely depths without being overly maudlin is a strength in this genre. And when Beck manages to couch sharp, terrible edges in gentle timbres, as she does on Glass House's best tracks, she's a capable young stylist.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Histories and Frontiers."