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It’s a rarity to listen to an album where after each song you can hear the thunderous applause of the audience in your head. A crowd that is not simply entertained by the performance but completely enraptured by the songwriting and the music that aims to please and captivate. This is what Basia Bulat has created with Good Advice.
For fans of Basia Bulat, the young woman who wowed us with her autoharp and delicate champer-pop on Oh, My Darling; Heart of My Own; and Tall Tall Shadow is gone. Canada’s sweetheart has embarked on something new and exciting. The Toronto native has embarked on a journey to expand her musical palette and extend herself to creating something that is more accessible. Some may consider this a turn towards the mainstream, as Good Advice is unquestionably a pop album. However, the record isn’t a shift towards Katy Perry- or Taylor Swift-style pop music. With the deft touches of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James as producer, who also created a kaleidoscope of psychedelic pop on his own solo debut, Bulat offers a re-imagination of the genre much like what she did with her chamber-pop. Specifically, she intricately weaves in theatrical and orchestral elements, which leads to a fuller, more technicolor sound that adds to the drama and euphoria of her wonderful storytelling.
This is all perfectly entwined in the album’s opener “La La Lie”, a boisterous breakup song that fills the air with its booming chorus and cascade of instruments. “Long Goodbye” parades in right after, led by a recognizable rhythm and a theatrical melody meant to induce people to clap in unison to the beat. The orchestral balladry continue with “In the Name Of”, where Bulat is supported by the gorgeous harmonies of an actual chorus.
It isn’t until the album’s second half where Bulat becomes bolder and the record, as such, picks up steam. The lovely “Good Advice” sees Bulat channel Nora Jones with its soulful intimacy and Bulat’s trademark stellar songwriting. While “Infamous” is cathartic like “La La Lie”, there is more restraint, as the song builds and the melodies shift often to create the drama that surrounds a relationship on the rocks. Bulat’s voice also reaches a different, emotional plane, echoing of a person whose heart has been severely pierced. “Fool” might be where James’ fingerprints are most apparent. This introspective tune is soaked in folk-pop with dashes of Americana, as the organ hums in the background and provides the guide to Bulat’s hallowing voice.
The soulful “The Garden” is stunning. The organ, keys, and horns provide an ethereal complement to Bulat’s stirring voice. It’s the one song that is reflective and serene, almost hymnal. Like a piece of scripture, the song is affirming and reaffirming, as Bulat sings, “We won’t look back, we won’t be lost. We look back and if we don’t, we won’t be lost. Don’t look back, you won’t be lost. I won’t look back, I know I won’t, I know I won’t be lost”.
With those words, Bulat has turned the page – actually more like a major chapter – in her life. Through personal heartbreak and a career-defining change in her style, Bulat is no longer the young woman who amazed us with her quirky simplicity and an affable humility. Instead, we are witnessing the transformation of Bulat as a performer who will command the stage with her theatrical, orchestral pop. The applause will be instantaneous when she walks on stage and thunderous after every song. With Good Advice, it would be wrong to characterize Bulat as Canada’s sweetheart as the veil of innocence has been removed. Instead, we’ll have to start recognizing her as Canada’s next great pop star.
Good Advice is out everywhere via Secret City Records. Bulat is currently on tour, commencing an extensive trek across North America on February 18th before returning to Europe in mid-Spring. Check her tour dates here.
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