Basia Bulat‘s debut album in 2007, Oh My Darling, was a bit of an undiscovered gem. Low-key without being lo-fi, it was full of intimate love songs that were beautifully crafted but with an unconventional edge.
2010’s Heart Of My Own tried to repeat the trick, but the songs were lacking that time round. Three years later, she’s back again but with her finest album. Bulat has expanded and refined her sound and, presumably inspired by a particularly large bout of heartbreak, produced a collection of her most affecting songs yet.
There’s a connection with her compatriots Arcade Fire – the album is produced by Tim Kingsbury of that band and The Suburbs producer Mark Lawson – but there’s not much in the way of comparisons. There’s none of the fire and epic nature of Win Butler and company to be found, just quietly mournful songs musing over regret and lost love.
What’s pleasing about Tall Tall Shadow is the obvious amount of thought that went into the recording. Although the title track is a pretty standard radio-friendly anthem, there’s much invention here. It Can’t Be You is beautifully stark, being just Bulat accompanied by a charango (a South American cousin of the ukelele) and the results are devastatingly pretty.
At the other end of the spectrum is Promise Not To Think About Love, an infectiously upbeat anti-love song with all manner of finger-clicking and hand-claps acting as percussion. Despite the gloomy nature of the lyrics, it’s one of the most accessible songs Bulat’s yet written. Paris Or Amsterdam is on simpler ground, a stark pop/folk song dripping in sadness, while Wires is terrific, pounding power-pop.
Bulat has a vocal similarity to Neko Case at times, and even recalls Tracy Chapman on occasion, such as on the aforementioned Paris Or Amsterdam. She also sounds equally at home with a sparse backing or on a more complex arrangement, such as the clattering rhythms of Five, Four (named, like Broken Social Scene‘s 7/4 Shoreline, after its own time signature). Long-term fans will also be reassured that Bulat’s trademark autoharp is still present and correct, being used to particularly good effect on Promise Not To Think About Love.
It’s the perfect break-up album as there’s no wallowing – rather, there’s a steely defiance running through these songs that make Tall Tall Shadow a surprisingly uplifting experience. Indeed, as the last notes of the gospel-tinged piano ballad From Now On fade out, it’s impossible not to feel that this is an album to keep you company through the forthcoming dark winter evenings.