Are You In Love? Is the fifth album from the immensely talented Canadian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Basia Bulat. She challenged herself to write about forgiveness, rather appropriate we suppose since her 2016 Good Advice, produced by My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, was a break-up album. James takes his place in the producer’s chair again for this one. He employs his previously successful formula, steering her away from her early folk stylings by infusing her songs with keyboard-based arrangements treading a line between electronic and organic while keeping the rhythms real. Her powerhouse voice is stunning, but her talent maybe even more so as she is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, recording and performing on guitars, piano, organ, synthesizers and harp. As you might expect, she’s rather genre-agnostic too, having made her first two recordings with a punk-rock producer and eventually delivering folk, country, and R&B. She is a three-time Polaris Music Prize finalist and has been nominated for three Juno Awards, a profile that has enabled her to perform at prestigious events such as Newport Folk and Montreux Jazz.
The album was begun in Joshua Tree (six songs) and completed nine months later in Montreal (seven songs), with Bulat chronicling the opposites of falling in love and losing her father in her baker’s dozen. “Throughout this whole record, I was struggling between keeping it together and letting go,” she explains in a press statement. “Between holding onto old narratives or accepting what’s before me.” She has released the lead single and video, “Your Girl,” a melding of folk and pop in which her vocals resemble Natalie Merchant. She offers this about the song, “I wrote ‘Your Girl’ during a snowstorm in Montreal and recorded it under the warm desert sun in Joshua Tree. Someone once told me you can’t sing and cry at the same time but that wasn’t true for me when we were recording this one. There’s joy in finally being free from a painful situation, relief, laughter — even as it feels impossible to ever forget the pain or understand why that storm came through your life the way it did. And so, light on your feet, you dance with the memory instead. If you’re listening to this song and understand what I mean, know that I’m singing with you as we’re dancing in that swirling wind.”
Joshua Tree was also the setting for “Already Forgiven” when her engineer recorded the wildest wind outside and sent the signal through a path of electronics creating swirling effects in the song. She claims the harmonies are there even if one can’t hear them at first listen, using that as an explanation for the years it may take to say, “you’re already forgiven.” Throughout Bulat pursues memories, the ebb and flows of life’s mysteries and unexplained cards one was dealt. Listeners can take comfort, especially now as we all self-quarantine because there’s wisdom, hope and a feeling of perseverance. Take the lyrics to “Love at the End of the World” – “You fall apart when you fall into it/Love is at the end of the world/In every song you sing back to it/Love is at the end of the world.”
The aforementioned is a brilliant closer to an album chock full of equally strong songs and no duds. Among her best are “Electric Roses,” “Homesick,” “Hall of Mirrors,”“I Believe It Now,” and the previously mentioned “Already Forgiven.” Bulat plays in configurations ranging from just three (“I Believe It Now”) to ten (“Pale Blue”). In both recording locations though the core band is consistent with David Givan (drums), Seth Kauffman (bass), and fellow multi-instrumentalist Andrew Scott Woods aboard for almost all tracks. Producer Jim James contributes electric guitar to two tracks and Mike Posen appears often on violin and viola, Zou Robidoux on cello, and Mashu Hayasaka on keys (some tracks have three musicians on keyboards) while some of the other selections have three background vocalists.
Basia Bulat’s music can transport you to another place. It’s exactly the kind of comfort we need right now.