“I don’t want to think about it / I won’t sing about it / I promise not to think about love,” Basia Bulat, the Toronto-born folky singer-songwriter, croons on her latest album Tall Tall Shadow. It’s a funny line, and she knows it. The lyrics on this collection of songs are dedicated almost exclusively to the subject of love—not necessarily in the romantic sense. Bulat reportedly lost someone close to her before the making of this record, and that experience inspired the work she’s created here. Tall Tall Shadow has its share of ups and downs.
Love and loss are nothing new for music, poetry, or anything really. Bulat, however, transcends the narrow bindings of folk music by presenting her meditations on these topics in a fresh and vivid way. Her instrumentation, which varies from song to song, creaties diversity; each track has something memorable to offer musically. The jittery, heart-wrenching chord progression of the charango is the only accompaniment on “It Can’t Be You,” and this minimal effect causes Bulat’s crystal-clear voice to shine through. The following song, “Wires,” is a fuller, more anthemic composition with percussion, guitars, and synths.
“Promise Not to Think About Love” is the radio-friendly potential single, a work made up of syncopated handclaps and snare hits that complement a punchy strumming pattern. However, despite the catchy instrumentation, the song is still tinted with nostalgia. Retrospective lyrics are crucial to this: “Oh, I had my reservations / Were your friends there at all? Did they offer consolation / When I promised not to think about love?”
Tall Tall Shadow’s penultimate track, “Never Let Me Go,” is the album’s catharsis; it’s a sombre, brooding, church-like piece that can be seen as a tight, accessible echo of Sigur Rós (in English, too). “Never let me go,” she repeats, until it sounds more like pleading than a request. The chorus is a simple, anguished “Oooh,” and Bulat puts more emotion into it than words would have expressed.
If the album ended there it would be a very different collection. And, for about 10 seconds, it sounds like it ends there; but, after a seemingly endless abyss of silence, Bulat’s familiar, warm voice comes in once more like a long-awaited exhale. The last song, a brief pastoral tune consisting of just piano and vocals, is a light at the end of the tumultuous tunnel that is Tall Tall Shadow. The song, “From Now On,” is reminiscent of the sentiment of “Case of You” by Leonard Cohen: “If every song from now on is about you … / I can play on and on,” she sings. Bulat fills Cohen’s shoes well here, and with Tall Tall Shadow, we can only hope that she does indeed play on and on into the future.