[12 March 2009]
Bookended by the almost self-explanatory “The Life of Dreams” and “Glad to Be Alive”, Julie Doiron’s latest could hardly be more different from her recent, emotionally devastated and devastating work. A writer of intensely direct and personal songs (who also manages to be artful and moving rather than banal), Doiron continues to chronicle her life’s ups and downs with exacting detail and honesty, while moving further in the electric direction promised by 2007’s Woke Myself Up. Working as a trio with Fred Squire and Eric’s Trip bandmate Rick White, Doiron sounds looser and more playful, in addition to considerably happier. All three swap the primary instruments of guitar, bass, and drums throughout the album’s terse 12 songs, and the results are lean and bracing.
After the brief “The Life of Dreams”, in which Doiron’s voice and guitar are abetted only by a soundtrack of field recorded bird songs, the album launches into the Squire-penned “Spill Yer Lungs”, whose plugged-in power chords lurch uncannily like Black Sabbath. But though the two songs seem dramatically different on paper, a pastorally-rendered acoustic number and a thunderous rock song, they sound perfectly natural together, bound by drier than dry production and Doiron’s distinct timbre.
Effusiveness is as antithetical to Doiron’s records as restraint is to fellow Canadian Celine Dion’s. But stark sound befits stark songs, and I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day doesn’t disappoint in that regard either. “Tailor” strings together a list of sweet and simple offerings such as “If I were a snow plow / I could plow a path to you” and “If I were a woodstove / I would keep you warm all night”, over an insistent, guitar-led rhythm. The domestic vignette “When Brakes Get Wet” gets the most out of creative percussion, bass, and a few acoustic strums, then disappears quick as a wink.
Stories of everyday life and feelings aren’t new to Doiron’s work, but the album does contain a few sonic surprises. The chugging “Consolation Prize” explodes into cacophonous noise in its midsection that aptly expresses the song’s frustration with the reactions of friends and family to a recent divorce. “People insisted on telling you / What a great couple you had been / They insisted on telling you over and over again”, she sings, with a mote of exasperation kept in check by the song’s breezy melody. “Heavy Snow” alternates between folky finger-picking and grinding chords in its opening lines, building tension toward the moment the song finally catches fire as a sludgy, bottom-heavy stomp. Finally, the song winds down with layered vocals that swirl and chase each others’ tails.
“Je Le Savais” marks the first time since 2001’s Desormais that Doiron has sung in French on record, featuring rare adornments as keyboards and atmospheric feedback. Still, Julie Doiron albums don’t require sonic innovation from one album to the next in order to impress or affect. The bare-bones reading of “Nice to Come Home” is so disarmingly tender and real as to nearly defy belief, and such writing (and singing, and playing) is a lot more difficult to pull off than Doiron makes it seem.