wears the trousers magazine

basia bulat: heart of my own (2010)
January 12, 2010, 7:46 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , ,

Basia Bulat
Heart Of My Own •••
Rough Trade

With the notable exceptions of ‘honour killing’, ‘collateral damage’ and ‘happy hooker’, there are few phrases which make me want to punch a wall more than ‘citizen of the world’. All the same, it may be a fitting description for Basia Bulat’s Heart Of My Own, an album conceived and born during her extensive travels across the sparsely beautiful Yukon and the Nevada desert, as well as Europe and Australia. The result is an album whose passport is packed with stamps of influence: full of drums which roll like prairie hills and strings which sweep as majestically as a mountaintop panorama, mingled in with borrowed choirs, a dash of Balkan spirit and the itching bluegrass of someone else’s homeland.

Since her debut Oh, My Darling was released in 2007, and later nominated for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize, interest in Bulat as a bright young original Canadian voice has been growing faster than a snowball down a mountain. Her voice is indeed unique; bold, yet full of tremble, and mournfully sweet, the finest moments on Heart Of My Own appear when the instrumentation is peeled away to let those contrasting tones fill up the void. Tracks like ‘Once More For The Dollhouse’ and the iTunes bonus ‘Hush’ are fragile crystal glasses in which Bulat’s claret voice is allowed to decant, and are two of the songs which remain once the album’s last notes are sounded.

But if this is a record borne of different landscapes, then there are some songs which feel less like destinations and more like the myopic blur seen from the window of a fast-moving train; pleasant, perhaps, from what you can see of them, yet not spectacular enough to stop for, not important enough to know by name. ‘Sugar & Spice’, for example, with its delicate fingerpicking and single-line chorus lament of “Oh, how I’ve done myself in”, ought to be a very anthem to self-pity, glued to the ears of those hoping to mire themselves in a good cathartic wallow. But though its separate parts promise noble things, the overall gestalt lacks any real consolation; the listener offers their breath, but it is not taken.

Though this album, as with Oh, My Darling, suffers from this general fuzziness, like a person from a strange land pleading urgently with you in their own indecipherable tongue, there appears a moment in which a common word is stumbled upon, bringing a moment of clarity to throw all the garbled attempts into relief. On Oh, My Darling, it was ‘I Was A Daughter’;  Heart Of My Own’s redemptive masterpiece is ‘The Shore’, a pared-back hymn of loneliness and storms, with the single notes of an autoharp striding out like the beam of a lighthouse over the dark brooding rocks of the single-stroke piano and lightly strummed guitar. Bulat’s bittersweet voice sings hauntingly of isolation tinged with a delicate optimism (“The storm is almost over”), and is carried perfectly by just the right amount of rousing choir. In an album which aims at the heart and often misfires, this song sticks out straight as an arrow; it cannot fail to pierce.

Katy Knight
UK release date: 25/01/10; www.myspace.com/basiabulat

FREE MP3: Basia Bulat, ‘Gold Rush’


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