There was a time when almost any song that was piano-based was considered to be “classical”, “lounge”, or performed by Elton John. It was music that only appealed to a select audience. Over the past decade, though, we’ve seen a wide-range of musicians embrace the piano as the focal instrument, maintaining its dramatic quality but using it in ways that are more expansive, stirring, and emotive. Luminaries like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, and indie artists such as Sharon Van Etten, Marissa Nadler, Julia Holter, Mike Hadreas (a.k.a. Perfume Genius), and J. Roddy Walston have demonstrated the versatility of the ebony and ivory keys.
Portland’s Robin Bacior further advances the sound of the piano, taking us to a place maybe we did not expect to be taken – in the water. Ten tracks covering 46 minutes, Bacior’s Water Dreams is one-third piano recital, one-third orchestral, and one-third experimentation. Taken together, it is a delightful experience that uses classical arrangements while woving in folk structures and textures.
Bacior is aided by the talented Dan Bindschedler, whose cello sways between heartbreaking and climatic and offers the perfect complement to Bacior’s elegance on the piano. Right from the start, we are introduced to the interplay between Bacior and Bindschedler, as “Your Best Advice” sees the two take turns in being the focal point of this lovely track regarding a secret tryst. Bacior’s quiet, delicate voice adds to fragility of the relationship. As she sings, “Words behind the doors. Why are we doing this for?”
“River Move” is largely an instrumental track that gives the feeling of being on boat or a raft during a storm at sea. Bacior’s piano acts as the waves crashing into the vessel while Bindschedler’s cello is the ranging storm that is stirring the water.
“If It Does” is a song that gives the impression of a parlay between two lovers thanks in large part to Bacior and Bindschedler’s interaction. Whereas “If It Does” may be fitting for a waltz, the title track feels as if one is suspended in water, creating a calming yet unsettling feeling at the same time.
Not all the songs are remorseful. “Kind of Light” is a realization that there is beauty in all things, but sometimes it takes time to recognize that life exists beyond the small boxes we reside in. “Smoke Screen” is a change of pace in sound and approach – a little more upbeat and with undertones of Latin music. Lyrically, it’s a clever track, speaking about how one’s dreams clouded reality.
Bacior’s voice is tender, but it can be tender and endearing, like on “Missing Ships”, but it can also be heartbreakingly sad, such as on “Headless Sheep”. Her voice is reminiscent of great Canadian jazz singer Diana Panton – a voice that can just lull into a state of relaxation yet surprise you with its raw emotion. It’s the type of voice – and the album as a whole – that is perfect for those cold nights by the fire, where one can reflect on the years that have passed and the times to come.
“If It Does” is below. You can also stream the full album in advance on CMJ.
Cover photo by Kim Smith Miller.
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