Release Date: Feb 12, 2016
Record label: Secret City Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Compared with Canadian indie-folkie Basia Bulat’s first three albums, her latest feels supercharged. While Bulat’s previous sound was lovely, always tasteful, mostly mournful, here she comes arrestingly alive, invigorated firstly by the roiling emotions and rich material of a raw breakup and secondly by warm, glowing production from My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, who brings out previously lurking pop and soul tendencies. This new Bulat barnstorms the stomping, accusatory catharsis of La La Lie, the poignant girl-groupisms of Fool and the Motowny high drama of In the Name Of, in which her gorgeous voice hits tormented heights, before finding resolution in the golden, ambient organ-fugged closing couple of The Garden and Someday Soon.
Basia Bulat, while not particularly troubling the mainstream charts, has carved out quite the little niche for herself in the nine years since her début Oh My Darling was released. Her subsequent records have been intimate little chamber-pop gems, featuring quirky instrumentation like ukuleles and autoharps – fitting in quite nicely next to her fellow Canadians Owen Pallett and the early material of sometime touring chums Arcade Fire. That’s all changed with the release of Good Advice – an unashamed pop album that sees Bulat redefining her sound with the help of My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James.
Already an established star in her native Canada, folk singer Basia Bulat relocates from Montreal to Louisville for her fourth album, enlisting My Morning Jacket’s Jim James for production and toning down her trademark autoharp in favour of dazzling, technicolour pop. As pain and sorrow spill from her mouth – “I’m still your fool,” sings Bulat with the sorrowful stoicism of a classic country crooner – rhinestone-encrusted melodrama and misery cascade around her, synthesised gospel colliding with the stately majesty of Grizzly Bear or Beach House. Perhaps its origins lie in the harmonic sensibility of Abba at their most defiant and deflated.
The Canadian singer's fourth album is a subtle but distinct redefining of her angular pop aesthetic. Produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket in his Kentucky studio, its Bulat's most soulful and engaging work to date. With, as you’d expect, increased emphasis on feel and groove, Good Advice emerges as the showcase her voice was surely waiting for all along.
Singer/songwriter Basia Bulat hasn’t garnered nearly enough notice on this side of our northern border, but it’s not because she’s not deserving. In her native Canada, the multi-instrumentalist (who’s known for playing the autoharp, dulcimer, charango and more) has gained significant airplay and even had her debut album, Oh My Darling, shortlisted for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize. Tall Tall Shadow, her third effort (and first to be accorded Stateside) was also considered for that particular prize and nominated for a Juno Award, as well.
Basia Bulat has acknowledged she went through a rough romantic breakup before she began writing the songs for her fourth full-length album, 2016's Good Advice, and even if she hadn't told anyone, it wouldn't be hard to figure out given the tenor of the songs. The first two numbers, "La La Lie" and "Long Goodbye," are pointedly addressed to someone who has a hard time telling the truth, while on "Let Me In," a similar character is chastised for his inability to open up and accept people around him, and "Infamous" concerns a guy who takes his bad-boy side a bit too seriously. Whoever broke Bulat's heart is not getting off easily on Good Advice, but if she feels wronged, her disappointment is articulate and expressed with intelligence as well as a dash of venom, and her vocals are airy as usual but full of confidence and emotional strength.
It’s particularly hard to settle with some pieces of good advice. To some, the already damaged, pieces of wisdom can be seen as the blunt or sharp debris that disguises itself behind the words “No offence, but…” That doesn’t mean that these tidbits are taken lightly. Pop music skirts around with the implication that good advice makes one stronger, and Basia Bulat has taken that to heart, not necessarily redefining her sound, but, thankfully, making it so much more luscious than the pieces of art that stood before.
File under: soul music. On her fourth studio album, Canadian singer-songwriter Basia Bulat's heart bursts open and out pours spirited, feel-good pop about the emotional rollercoaster that is surviving a romantic break-up.Like her Polaris-shortlisted and Juno-nominated 2013 album Tall, Tall Shadow, Good Advice deals frankly and intimately with loss. Musically, it also continues Bulat's exploration of electronic sounds over folk storytelling.
It’s not always the case when a singer/songwriter makes the transition from folk-rock to keyboard pop that you say “Finally” and “All right!” But Basia Bulat’s shift – or transcendence, really – from guitar, autoharp and charango to all sorts of instrumentation on fourth album Good Advice seems destined and natural. That’s thanks in part to her bright, full, soulful voice, which is big enough to cut through the album’s wall of sound. Produced by Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Good Advice finds Bulat in motion: breaking up, moving cities (Toronto to Montreal), looking ahead, processing stuff.
"What am I living in the name of?" wonders Basia Bulat, the melodrama of the sentiment evaporating when paired with a buoyant, organ-driven score. Falling on the quirk spectrum between Florence + the Machine and Feist, the Canadian's fourth album plows into radio-friendly territory, a pop triumph. Good Advice opens with bouncy "La La Lie" and chugs polished iridescence throughout, particularly on "Fool." Bulat's pipes and songwriting prowess flourish, more than in her prior folksy, singer-songwriter LPs.
Basia Bulat melds an affectless timbre like Zooey Deschanel’s with a throatiness reminiscent of Natalie Merchant, curling her words into a sad smile, and that expression not only defines her primary tone on “Good Advice,” it delineates her limitations. Whether frustrated, pleading, or just downhearted, Bulat’s genial melodicism won’t let her succumb to unhappy thoughts; in “Let Me In,” she’s bopping her head even as she furrows her brow. It’s a valid approach, but Bulat doesn’t mine it for tension, instead simply juxtaposing competing impulses.