A patchy, but sporadically wonderful album from the Canadian singer.
James Skinner 2010-01-15
On her debut album Oh, My Darling, Basia Bulat put her best foot forward and opened with Before I Knew, a breezy, banjo-led paean to first love. With her second she eschews this light touch in favour of the blustery, galloping Go On, which finds her in far more seasoned, retaliatory form. It’s quite the contrast, emblematic of the sonic shift to be found on this follow-up: for better or worse, Heart of My Own is basically Oh, My Darling mark two – bigger, bolder and boasting a veritable fleet of orchestral arrangements.
Given the involvement of Howard Bilerman (who has worked with Arcade Fire among others, and also helmed Oh, My Darling), these embellishments shouldn’t come as a surprise. That Bulat is a fine (sometimes disarmingly so) singer is never in doubt; neither is the quality of the numerous backing players that bolster these tracks. As a songwriter, she proffers tunes both sweetly melancholic and of a laudable optimism, though the impression given at various stages of this record is that of an artist slightly adrift – edges smoothed over; songs lacking requisite space to breathe and flourish.
The restrained likes of Sparrow or I’m Forgetting Everyone exude hushed, confessional intimacy, complementing her silky tones perfectly. Elsewhere, results range from the needlessly crowded to the defiantly successful, as the one-two of Gold Rush and the title track demonstrate. There’s a decent song somewhere in the former, buried among swathes of violin, marching drums and countless auxiliary instruments, but it’s in the latter she finally sounds at ease: gentle cavalcades of folksy instrumentation firmly behind her.
This is the frustrating thing about Heart of My Own. When it’s good, it’s fantastic, endearing stuff, from a singer exhibiting no small amount of resolve (see her winsome re-imagining of The Strokes' Someday - Basia Bulat covering The Strokes’ Someday on YouTube - for ample evidence of this). As it stands, cumbersome arrangements and a tendency to coast weigh heavy – diluting the finished article from one of real, enduring merit to a patchy, only sporadically wonderful album.