Self-reflection takes time as does a good self-reflecting album, and Basia Bulat knows this better than anyone. Her fourth studio album, Good Advice, was conceived nearly two years ago on a drive from Bulat’s native Toronto to Kentucky, and over time the slow, acoustic demos were transformed to peppy alt pop in Jim James’ (My Morning Jacket, Monsters of Folk) Louisville studio. The 10-track album is replete with dark, melancholy themes, cleverly disguised in danceable tempos and major keys: a break-up album you can boogie along to in the kitchen with a wooden spoon. Bulat’s soulful alto tones punch through keyboards and synth, offering not only “good advice,” as the album title suggests, but more an honest look at cause-and-effect of actions and relationships.
Good Advice starts off with the punchy “La La Lie,” four minutes of jangling vintage pop, and ends with the slow and lingering “Someday Soon,” accompanied with haunting vocals and shimmering synth. As the album progresses, the songs begin to slow down and adapt a more contemplative bearing. This process provides an underscore for the very human theme of heartbreak that runs through Good Advice; first, bright and loud anger is expressed, followed eventually by forlorn sense of longing and quiet acceptance.
While the album over all flows nicely between tracks, a few stand out as exceptionally noteworthy. “In The Name Of” is an upbeat ballad with a heavy drum base, tambourine accents, and a gospel-esque chorus providing background vocals. An electric guitar provides depth and body to the track, while Bulat belts out powerful lyrics. The titular track, “Good Advice,” starts out quietly, allowing the listener to focus on Bulat’s voice. An electric guitar riff and drums soon join in, layering one over the other with the addition of keyboard and vocal harmonies. The song itself is an embodiment of realization, the crescendo of instrumentals signaling the clearing of a clouded mind. “Garden” is a jumble of overlapping synth rhythms, again letting Bulat’s echoing vocals shine through. A saxophone sounds in the distance, providing a serene bridge between lyrics. The track is a beautiful and lush dénouement before “Someday Soon.”
Bulat attributes part of her inspiration for Good Advice to a particular July 4th night, where crude fireworks peppered an otherwise dark sky. Bright flashes of awareness amongst a dark swath of uncertainty is the tone that Bulat conveys in Good Advice, and her thoughts, frustrations, and emotions are almost tangible through the airwaves. Whether using as an emotional salve or a good dose of introspective pop, Good Advice does not fail to deliver.
Album released: February 12, 2016
-review by Juliana Van Amsterdam