Oh, My Darling
The resurgent British interest in Canadian music shows no sign of abating - and it's about time too. For years a mention of the country's contribution to pop history would garner sneering assaults on the unholy trinity of Adams, Morrissette and Dion, but those days are long, long gone. Now the reflex action is towards Arcade Fire, Stars and Broken Social Scene, and Canadian music is no longer a laughing matter. Basia Bulat is the most recent Canuck to be gaining the right noises this side of the Atlantic and with this disc it's not hard to see why. Her debut is a seductive melange of quirky instrumentation, ragtime whimsy and log-cabin torch songs, shot through with a tremulous and unexpectedly soulful vocal.
The flourish of ukelele and handclap gospel to which we are treated on brief opener 'Before I Knew' perfectly sets out Bulat's eclectic stall, and throughout the following 34 minutes or so she continues to charm. Despite her vocal style at first sounding more suited to standard R&B fare rather than shonky acoustic folk, nonetheless throughout the disc she displays a trademark tonal lift into chorus which elevates the majority of these songs into melodic atmospheres above her peers.
The young songwriter also knows when a song has done its job - only two of the twelve tracks venture beyond three and a half minutes, which enables the record to progress at the swift pace established by the 24-to-the-dozen march of second track 'I Was A Daughter'. Further on, the breathless 'Snakes and Ladders' weaves a wonderful hispanic snare through chamber strings and apreggiated piano as Bulat exclaims "it's the way we come undone, what a perfect accident". Slower is the unashamed romanticism of the aptly-named 'Little Waltz' as Bulat begs her paramour to "stay for a while, while our leaves are still green", while woozy blues 'Birds Of Paradise' is shot through with an understated and heavily reverbed piano. Highlight 'The Pilgriming Vine' steadily builds its circular waltz from a single acoustic to a grand Lavender Diamond-style kitchen sink finale.
Although there are moments where matters stray too close to standard MOR female singer-songwriter territory ("Why Can't It Be Mine" doesn't quite have enough of a tune to quite escape this impression) these incidents are seldom, and the lo-fi production helps at times to create a campfire 'field recording' vibe. Indeed, there is little attempt to process out background noises and residual fuzz, heightening the sense of dizzy intimacy that pervades the record. It's not one for those that like their female vocalists produced and compressed to death - but it should be, as 'Oh, My Darling' is a refreshing change and one whose charms many processed pop-pickers would benefit from hearing. It's quite lovely, and a welcome addition to the Canadian invasion.