ALBUM: Good Advice
ARTIST: Basia Bulat
Album release date: February 12, 2016
An Economy of Words // A Maelstrom of Emotion
Basia Bulat is a voracious reader. The petite Canadian singer majored in English, and prefers literature over media: “How can I read Middlemarch if I’m reading everyone’s Twitter? It’s too much at once!” She laughs, her countenance kind and her demeanor warm. “Within the span of two months I reread Jane Austen’s Emma and I read Dave Eggers’ What is the What, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, a Kafka anthology, and Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas. I reread things a lot, too, because I sometimes feel as though I missed stuff the first time. I really have no preference: just that it be good. I like hearing all sorts of different voices.”
Besides being impressively articulate and intelligent, Bulat is a vastly gifted musician, classically trained in piano from a young age and self-taught on a wide range of instruments – some familiar, some less so (the auto-harp, though celebrated in certain circles, isn’t something many of us hear in a given day). Her mother, who immigrated from Poland to Canada as a young woman, endeavored to provide Basia (pronounced Bash-ah) and her younger brother with the best musical education she could afford: some of which included buying them tickets to whatever bands they were interested in at any given time.
A love for classic gospel, folk, and soul has colored the palate of Bulat’s musical stylings, as well as an admixture of bright textures borrowed from other cultures and times. Her first few albums favored a folk-vibe, revolving around story-songs to create an archival aesthetic; whereas her latest album, Good Advice, finds the singer exploring the story of a broken heart via pop. “Pop can take [the most intense feelings] and convey them without such intense detail. . . I’m interested in creating something [using fewer words].” Bulat mentions that one of the things she admires most about her favorite authors is their economy of words – the ability to describe a universal feeling or experience in a succinct, clear manner. It was this laconic gravitas she sought to replicate via the colorful medium of pop.
And she succeeded. Good Advice, recorded and produced by My Morning Jacket leader Jim James in Kentucky, is a unique, smart LP teeming with imagination. The upbeat tempo, the Nordic flare mixed with carefully balanced elements, and layers of curious instrumentation all act as the perfect conduit for Bulat’s distinct voice, which is left untouched in its beautiful asymmetry. It’s an old trick – singing sad songs in a happy key – but Good Advice hits the ear and mind like something new and thrilling. “When you’re writing a ‘breakup album’ it’s a full range of emotions there, and it’s like you feel really sad but realize a change is necessary in your life and it gives you a sense of freedom . . . there’s a powerful side to your sadness, and a power to honour what you had and feel happy about it,” says Bulat. “There’s a little bit of anger on the record, but there’s no regret. I think that’s the thing. We were talking a lot about the Fourth of July and Canada Day with all the fireworks, where there’s this darkness and then suddenly these big bright lights. They’re beautiful, but terrifying too. That’s kind of what we were going for. [Because], if you only let yourself only be sad, then you’re denying the full range of what you’re going through.”