Basia Bulat‘s last album, Good Advice in 2016, seemed to mark something of a creative rebirth for the Canadian singer. The recruitment of Jim James from My Morning Jacket as producer brought out Bulat’s pop sensibilities, resulting in her most accessible album to date.
Four years on, she’s reunited with James in an attempt to repeat the formula that worked so well last time. And, for the most part, the pair succeed – despite the long period and the life experiences that Bulat in particular has gone through (a new marriage and the death of her father), Are You In Love? flows quite seamlessly from its predecessor.
The themes of the two records are quite distinct though. Whereas Good Advice was a break-up album (albeit a more cheerful one than that phrase would imply), Are You In Love? is a more measured, and ultimately celebratory, look at the world. There’s a lovely light pop touch to many of the tracks, especially the insanely catchy Your Girl, which brings to mind the best moments of Jenny Lewis, while Homesick gradually develops from an acoustic introduction before turning into a full-on Phil Spector-ish Wall of Sound tribute.
At the centre of it all is Bulat’s voice, which sounds wonderful throughout. In her early days, more attention seemed to be focused on the autoharp that became her calling card, but she really has matured into a brilliantly distinctive singer. The album’s ballads demonstrate this best, especially on the haunting Light Years and especially on the stirring album standout of No Control.
Lyrically, there’s a sense of Bulat putting the past behind her and seeking reconciliation. This is most effective on the beautiful Already Forgiven (which actually features the Mojave Desert’s winds outside the recording studio as backing instrumentation) – “I want to leave my line and let my old ways fall into the shapes I could have foreseen at all” runs one of the song’s key lines.
Bulat’s autoharp is the main focus on the gorgeous Fables (possibly the album’s clearest throwback to her early folk roots), while Pale Blue is full of poetic imagery and full of curious little melodic turns that only start to become clear after a few listens.
Bulat and Jones save the most striking moment for last though, with the closing Love Is At The End Of The World, which builds up beautifully until Bulat is singing over a swirl of guitar noise – it’s that sense of catharsis which defines the album and makes it a suitable end point.
Are You In Love? is arguably not quite as immediate as Good Advice, with some songs taking a few listens to really find their feet. It may be one for more long-term fans than one that will provide her commercial breakthrough, therefore. But anyone who devotes some time will be able to give an answer to the question that the title track poses.