The final song on Laura Veirs’ The Lookout closes the album on a particularly striking image of hope. ‘Zozobra’ is a track licked by the flames of the same gnarled electric guitar sound that characterised her previous album, 2013’s Warp and Weft. That evocation of flames is appropriate as the song’s title references the famous 50ft effigy, also known as Old Man Gloom, which gets set alight as part of the annual Fiestas de Santa Fe in New Mexico. By burning Old Man Gloom, it is said the worries and troubles of the previous year go up in flames. “And the people's hearts rose with fire,” sings Veirs, her voice climbing high with the floating ashes and embers, as country feedback drones and squeals behind her. By her own admission, The Lookout is a soundtrack for troubling times, a soothing balm, imploring us to avoid complacency and recognise the good around us, whilst casting aside our woes (maybe this year, the good people of Sante Fe could be persuaded to cast Orange Man Doom onto the roaring bonfire).

To that end, Veirs spends the majority of the album’s runtime paying homage to sources of stability in her life, sometimes in fairly straightforward terms, other times through abstraction and metaphor. ‘Everybody Needs You’ paints a picture of a father figure, kids hanging off him in the yard, who is a rock for those around him. Sufjan Stevens provides the vocal hook on ‘Watch Fire,’ wherein a camper stokes the campfire in order to maintain vigilance over those in his charge. Latest single, ‘Lightning Rod’ is essentially ‘Everybody Needs You Pt.2’ via the titular extended (and self-explanatory) metaphor, with children, possibly Veirs’ own, crying out “protector” at various intervals. Finally, the jaunty and brief title track appears to be a loving tribute to Veirs’ husband and long-time producer, Tucker Martine, her “lookout on the ground” who “makes music from the broken shit [he’s] found. Veirs’ album is a generous, open-hearted one as a result, rich with an appreciation for the people in her life, but also for the world around her, and the beauty to be found within it.

Veirs’ lyrics have always been steeped in natural imagery, with myriad flora and fauna figuring heavily in her work. 2004’s Carbon Glacier and 2007’s Saltbreakers for their part were positively draped in seaweed, just like this new record’s understated opener, ‘Margaret Sands,’ a quintessential Veirs number. The subject of the song, who by its end is married to the swell and swaying in the shells, may as well be Veirs herself. On the slide-guitar driven country and western flavoured, ‘Seven Falls,’ Veirs indulges her love of surveying the topography of the United States, visiting the Saginaw river under sapphire skies and swimming in an icy lake beyond the Seven Falls in Colorado Springs. She plaintively wonders how “a child of the sun can be so cold.” On the chorus, it becomes clear that she’s chastising herself: “I try to be kind, but still sometimes, I'm as cold as that.” How is it possible to live amongst such bountiful beauty and still lack generosity of heart and spirit? That appears to be the question being posed. Make no mistake, it’s a question for all of us.

Though we take it for granted, “the earth will see [us] on through this time,” Veirs assures us on ‘Mountains of the Moon,’ a song which, like ‘Seven Falls’ before it features plenty of atmospheric slide guitar, as well as a brief, ominously droning coda (replete with wailing by, presumably, Jim James) that brings to mind R.E.M.’s flirtations with skewed country on Out of Time and Automatic for the People. Nature is a sanctuary from the ills of the world, explicitly so on ‘The Meadow,’ where there are “No walls, no ads, no black balloons … No fear, no confusion, just a slither of a moon.” But its beauty cannot last. It’s a simplistic, elegiac track, performed on an echoing piano, accompanied by the strings of long-time arranger-of-choice, Eyvind Kang.

As with all Veirs albums, there’s no shortage of beauty on ‘The Lookout,’ but the appeal of her music at its best is the willingness of Veirs and Martine to add some sharper edges to the pervading lushness. The drones and “ohm”-ing voices that call like creatures from the crypt transform opener ‘Margaret Sands’ from run-of-the-mill, coffee shop, indie-folk into something infinitely more arresting. The naïf, traditional folk-sounding melodies of the verses of ‘The Canyon’ are offset by the glorious guitar workouts of the wordless chorus and coda. The thick, buzzing bassline and middle eastern-flavoured strings of ‘When It Grows Darkest’ seem to embody that sense of encroaching darkness. These are all wonderful creative choices, adding shade and depth to an album that, to a casual listener, could easily fade into the background.

Veirs has never been one to draw attention to herself. She’s probably recorded only a handful of lapel-grabbing rockers in her time, so she’s certainly an artist who relies on patient listeners willing to dive deep and immerse themselves. It’s telling that the singles released in advance of the album are, despite their obvious pop hooks, amongst the least beguiling compositions on here. Veirs is, and always has been, about the deep cuts. ‘Everybody Needs You’ and ‘Lightning Rod’ suffer a little as a result of over-polished production, with programmed beats that push the sound a touch too close to the stilted electronic-meets-acoustic pop of R.E.M.’s Up (funny how those Athens boys keep cropping up). There’s greater value to be found amongst the tracks that reveal themselves slowly, upon repeat listens.

There’s something intangible about the way in which Veirs’ music succeeds or fails (and it rarely fails). From Troubled by the Fire onwards, there haven’t been any radical sea changes between albums, certainly not in overarching style or approach. But on some albums, there’s just a sense that everything has clicked into place. The songwriting is on point and the production subtly augments without obfuscating or distracting. This is the case on Carbon Glacier, Year of Meteors and, particularly, July Flame. An album like Saltbreakers simply did not work, whilst her previous effort, Warp & Weft was solid without matching previous highs. The Lookout is similar to her last album in this sense. It does virtually exactly what you’d expect from a Veirs album, without consistently hitting that sweet spot.

When it does though, as on the penultimate number, ‘When It Grows Darkest,’ it results in a track that you could leave on repeat for hours without growing tired of it. That circular, plucked melody, the jazzy drums, the subtle woodwinds, and then those strings that come to dominate the track, all coalesce in a superlative mood-piece that manages to hook itself into your mind. Again, it’s a track concerned with stability and hope, the hope that even in our darkest hour, when we’re lost and alone, buffeted by the waves of the stormy sea of our lives, there will be a light to guide us home. In her ongoing, unflappable dependability, Veirs has established herself as a beacon in her scene, and it is indubitable that she will continue to be a guiding light for listeners for years to come. Now, turn off the rolling cable news, put on ‘The Lookout,’ and forget your woes for forty minutes.