Have they been putting something in the water over in Canada in recent years? Not so long ago only known for Maple Syrup, Mounties and Bryan Adams, a whole host of outstanding artists have recently broken through from Montreal, Ontario and Toronto.
Bulat isn’t your normal ‘earnest female singer/songwriter’ type though. Sharing a producer with the Arcade Fire and recording her debut album in their studio means that comparisons are perhaps unfair but unavoidable – there’s the same sort of ‘what on earth is this?’ feeling that you probably had when you first heard Funeral.
This is a more initiate, less epic kind of sound though. Accurately described by some as ‘chamber-pop’, Bulat’s marvellously bittersweet little gems are enhanced by delicate string arrangements, urgent drumming and lovely little touches like Katie Saunoris’ flute cameo on The Pilgriming Vine.
The songs here are so unusually put together that they become almost addictive – the brief opening track Before I Knew being a case in point. Beginning with a simple ukulele, it incorporates handclaps and harmonies and is finished in just over a minute. The fact that it leads into the wondrous, Tilly And The Wall-like percussion heavy standout of I Was A Daughter just makes it all the more listenable.
Then there’s Bulat’s voice – sometimes fragile and whispy, and at other times strong and passionate, she can sound heartbreaking on the samba arrangement of the aching Why Can’t It Be Mine, or urgent and imploring on the fantastic Snakes And Ladders. The latter in fact is possibly one of the tracks of the year, mixing plinking piano chords and a haunting string section to create something quite beautiful.
Maybe Oh My Darling won’t be for everyone – it’s firmly in the ‘cult’ bracket and it’s difficult to see her breaking into the mainstream. Some may find the atmosphere a bit cloying or twee at times, but it’s refreshing to hear a songwriter unafraid to take risks and not settle for the ‘housewives favourite’ spot on the Ken Bruce show.
In fact, there’s not a duff track on here, which is remarkable for one so unhyped. By the time that ukulele reappears on the closing track of A Secret, the first thing you’ll want to do is play the album again. One of the debuts of the year.