PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Basia Bulat Asks 'Are You in Love?'

Photo: Richmond Lam / Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

Are You In Love? continues Basia Bulat's work with Jim James with equally excellent results but a slightly different theme about love in general.

Are You in Love?
Basia Bulat

Secret City

27 March 2020

Basia Bulat has put on a dayglo outfit. Back in 2007, when her debut album Oh, My Darling first came out, it'd be hard to picture her in anything quite that bright. She seemed to be more earth tone than neon. That debut and her subsequent two releases, Heart of My Own and Tall Tall Shadow, all had a similar sound based on organic instrumentation, all with a homemade feel and equally simple production. The beats were a little square -- more Mumford and Sons stomping a bass drum and less Al Jackson Jr. in Memphis in the mid-1960s laying a groove so deep you could sleep in it.

These early albums by Bulat have quality, of course, as Bulat is a talented songwriter as well as an extraordinarily interesting vocalist. Her fourth full length, 2016's Good Advice, was a new thing for her, though. Bulat enlisted Jim James of My Morning Jacket fame as a producer and began to show a little more of her soul and pop influences. The tones were brighter, and the grooves bounced a little more. It's a great album. Her new album, Are You in Love?, continues this approach with equally excellent results but with a slightly different theme.

Hit shuffle on Bulat's discography, and you're more likely to hear an autoharp or finger-picked guitar than a keyboard or electric guitar, and that's because of her first three albums. Bulat has a wild, beautiful voice that has seemingly endless possibilities that work well in such a stripped-down context. Take "It Can't Be You" off her third album Tall Tall Shadow, for example. It lives on a Sufjan-esque finger-picked guitar line that allows her voice room to open up, and the "Whoo's" and "Whoa's" she belts are all the evidence you need of her effective vocal theatrics. It's a common approach for her first period. Let the voice stand out.

Starting with Good Advice and continuing with Are You in Love?, Bulat's voice becomes more a part of the mix instead of the focal point. The ride itself is worth it, though, as these vehicles are astonishingly powerful and full of supreme performances from all angles. The tones are lively. Also, the production is inventive, with nearly every song having an unexpected twist or turn. More, the rhythm section is stunningly solid throughout the album.

"Homesick" is a song that starts with just an acoustic guitar and a voice, but slowly the rhythm section sneaks in for a note or two here and there until out of nowhere they all come bursting in full bore, with the bass rumbling and fuzzy like a garage band with nothing more than a 10-inch speaker and a borrowed Big Muff. It's a blissful moment, but it's not alone, as Are You in Love? is full of inventive song structures and surprising production flourishes.

So, Good Advice and Are You in Love? are similar sonically, but a little different thematically. Whereas, Good Advice was a straight-up break-up record, spewing vitriol at a past lover, Are You in Love? is more about love in general: the good, the bad, the romantic, the platonic, the familial, the abstract. The closing track is called "Love Is at the End of the World". "You fall apart when you fall into it. Love is at the end of the world," Bulat tells us. "Find me at the end of the world," she says a little later. It seems like she already knows the answer to the question she is asking.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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