The title of indie singer-songwriter Laura Stevenson’s latest single is the name of a OCD-related mental illness that causes people to repeatedly pick at their own skin. But despite that ominous title, Stevenson’s latest — a jangly pop-rocker that recalls Rabbit Fur Coat-era Jenny Lewis — is about persisting through pain. When Stevenson sings, “So scar up where it counts/No one can see me now,” it sounds less like a confession than a triumph.
On “Dermatillomania,” the centerpiece of her new album The Big Freeze, Stevenson tells much of her story through the song’s breezy SoCal riff, which arrives like a declaration right after the song’s closest approximation to a chorus: “And then I see your face.” The song also features some of the sharpest imagery the 34-year-old songwriter has ever written. Describing that same face later on, Stevenson sings, “Its features are a skyline of a city I can’t place.” It’s the type of line that could only come from a singer who’s suffered through desolation and come out on other side. The song works mostly because Stevenson is careful never to forget her past scars. “It’s not a sign of hope/It’s not a suit of armor,” she offers. “Only a reminder.”