Amy Millan: Masters of the Burial

The Stars/Broken Social Scene singer returns with a sedate sophomore album

Amy Millan

Masters of the Burial

Label: Arts & Crafts
US Release Date: 2009-09-14

Honey from the Tombs, Amy Millan’s first solo album, had one great song (“Skinny Boy”), a few other compelling tracks, and a bunch of stuff that seemed to just drift by. The singer-songwriter who’s in Stars and often contributes to Broken Social Scene was never expected, of course, to produce something as immediately likeable or formally ambitious as those overpowering indie presences. Nevertheless, her solo output so far always seemed, well, pretty modest in comparison.

Masters of the Burial is another fairly slight offering – just over thirty minutes. Like her debut, Masters of the Burial contains a number of covers. The most commented has been the Death Cab for Cutie Song “I Will Follow You into the Dark”, from Plans. One of the most upbeat songs on the album, it’s something of a typical Millan cover, infusing her downbeat country acoustic twang into Ben Gibbard’s emo ballad. The song has been a familiar one in Millan shows over the years, and her version sounds well worn in, with the twisting phrasing of Connor Oberst. Elsewhere, though, Millan tackles songs by Sarah Harmer, Richard Hawley and Jenny Whiteley. Who are these people? Harmer and Whiteley have performed and recorded with Millan often in the past, creating this clique of Canadian female singer-songwriters more interested in this downbeat balladry than Feist’s plucky individualism, say.

Millan’s own compositions fit in well with her covers; understated and peaceful, they rely more on timbre than melody or, really, the insight of the lyrics. In this way she reminds of a shy Australian singer called Holly Throsby, who’s slightly more husky, but fits the same mould. Between Masters and her previous songs, Millan hasn’t changed much – rounding out some of her work with a sparingly used snare, or an extra layer of guitar, or strings or a plaintive trombone. The timbre is the same, which becomes a problem only when it comes to feel predictable. Millan’s songs are beautiful, and can even be beguiling, but they are pretty much all set with similar voicing, tempi, and melodic range. The singer will choose to fall off the peak of a melodic arc in a chorus, and never pushes her voice for dramatic effect. The result is so understated as to almost negate any impact at all.

The one exception may be “Day to Day” (the Whiteley cover). This skeletal song, at first disorienting, becomes addictive on the third or fourth listen. It’s essentially an a cappella hymn, just Millan’s voice over a simple beat, and is reminiscent of Peter Bjorn and John’s recent asceticism, mining power from the space around the words. “And the moon on the trees is beautiful,” Millan sings before ending quite abruptly – “But not so lovely as you”.

But on Masters of the Burial Amy Millan, outside of her stellar work with Stars and Broken Social Scene, seems to be returning to well-mined, familiar ground. Before, it was “those lips I could spend a day with”. Here she’s considering “your mouth on my mouth / A fire I just can’t put out”. Her sound sure is pretty, but it doesn’t hook you in the way, say, Cat Power’s self-destruction does. Of all the musicians out of the fertile Canadian scene who’ve gone off on solo jaunts – unless she finds some new subject and greatly expanded range – Millan’s is likely to remain the most modest, at least for now.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.