Album review: Basia Bulat – Are You In Love?
PUBLISHED: 08:55 25 March 2020 | UPDATED: 08:55 25 March 2020
The Canadian’s boldest record yet offers intelligent pop with soul-searching lyrical heft
It feels like the acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter Bulat has been waiting in the wings for a shot at mainstream success for years now.
Her last LP, 2016’s Good Advice, was her third to be nominated for the Polaris Music Prize – Canada’s answer to the Mercury’s – and she’s bagged three nominations in the country’s JUNO Awards.
Her fifth album, produced by My Morning Jacket’s frontman Jim James, continues her trajectory away from indie-folk and teasing out soul and pop elements.
It is inevitably informed by its laboured birth; leaving recording sessions in Joshua Tree National Park’s Hi-Dez Studio without a completed record, it would be nine months before Bulat was ready to return to it, the intervening period seeing her both fall in love and lose her father.
The finished article refracts this period of death and grief, forgiveness, reinvention, love and compassion.
Her lyrics for the title track are more cynical and self-aware than dewy-eyed or devil-may-care – wondering aloud if it might be a trick of the silver screen, twisting psychological chemistry against her better judgement.
The stately-paced pop-ballad is dressed in strings and Bulat’s distinctive acrobatic vocal, which is put to good use across these baker’s dozen songs with a smattering of highlights.
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One is Already Forgiven, a delightfully opaque, mellifluous arrangement of dainty strings that gently sparkles and pulses with the vibration of life.
Another – The Last Time, with strummed guitar, humming Hammond organ and gently-deployed percussion – looks longingly at the encore slot with its anthemic second half (although we’ll have to wait until at least September, all being well, to find out if it succeeds).
Other notable tracks include the twee synth-pop of Your Girl, tinged with the joy of release in spite of its pain (and sung through genuine tears), and Florence-like wailing of No Control, Bulat belting out couplets on emotional freefall, backed by repeated chants, downcast piano and entreaties of violin.
But it’s closing track Love Is At The End Of The World which is arguably the real gem – a surging, throbbing chunk of off-kilter pop, ratcheted up with pleasing inevitability by warm, fuggy-yet-limber organ, serrated guitar squeal and Bulat’s leaping voice.