The Arcade Fire influence is immediately evident in the foggy reverb which lingers in much of Basia Bulat’s latest release, Tall, Tall Shadow. A soupy, breathy presence, it threatens to drain the listener through the plughole, only to be saved at the last minute by the carefully-placed accuracy of Bulat’s vocal. It’s a surprising voice, its precision and smoky warmth at once opposites yet perfect bedfellows, and Bulat’s control and effortlessness separate her from the swathes of floaty, folky, female singer-songwriters of the past decade, whose vocal and lyrical mediocrity has prevented them from being heralded ‘the next Joni Mitchell’.
Speaking of which, Bulat repeatedly has been. But there are big differences: as well as her sounding inevitably more ‘modern’, these two are fundamentally divided by their lyrical styles. Whereas Mitchell moved from big picture to painfully personal, breaking musical ground in the process, Bulat remains mostly vague. This is not a criticism – Tall, Tall Shadow was written during a period of recent loss, so it makes sense that a confused collection of insuppressible thoughts and emotions have gathered together to form this record. They are engaging for their beauty and sincerity, but not for the lyrical specificity and innovation which characterises Mitchell’s songs. And there’s no question of their authenticity – Paris Or Amsterdam and It Can’t Be You are longing, lonely songs to a loved one, after the event. The latter’s effect on an audience is magical; here’s a video of Balut playing it live to a room full of noisy artists. See how they shush.
There are elements here of Florence + the Machine, Tegan & Sara and, a million miles from previous complaints that her songs are inaccessible due to a lack of melody, there are even hints of R&B in eponymous track Tall, Tall Shadow. These are songs open to anyone, honest and full of feeling, and they are full of a vocal and musical self-confidence. A rousing, skilled release from an undeniable talent.