If there's one thing that Good Advice shows most of all, it's Basia Bulat's flexibility as a songwriter. Her take on pop makes her emotive and multi-dimensional.
It's particularly hard to settle with some pieces of good advice. To some, the already damaged, pieces of wisdom can be seen as the blunt or sharp debris that disguises itself behind the words "No offence, but..." That doesn't mean that these tidbits are taken lightly. Pop music skirts around with the implication that good advice makes one stronger, and Basia Bulat has taken that to heart, not necessarily redefining her sound, but, thankfully, making it so much more luscious than the pieces of art that stood before. The ukulele-touting "Before I Knew" that played on her first record Oh, My Darling is old enough to respect the life that Bulat's new musical offspring, Good Advice, spouts out.
For this Ontario-based singer-songwriter, an album is something that balances its excitement with the necessary doubts that life has to offer. When her inner Joni Mitchell comes out, Bulat, autoharp in hand, sings in such a feathery tone, one that impacts larks near water. And despite the singer's relatively limited register, she still is able to construct a feeling, something not arbitrary or faked. All of this is done not only with pop by her side, but also tinges of blues, gospel, and retro sounds, mostly due in part to Jim James of My Morning Jacket, who assisted with the album's glowing instrumentation. Because that's what the pop in Bulat's Good Advice feels like: an explosion of light within a clear jug.
What distinguishes Bulat's sound from the common fare of pop, modern or from yesteryear, is how she handles herself like a marching band, one where all the instruments are so close together in such a dark space. The musician's voice verges upon unique but also commonplace, yet when judgment is surrendered, it ultimately has a soapy resonance that has consistently managed to avoid the quality of bothersome. She's neither nasally or deep, which is perfect for someone who's straddling toward a genre not necessarily her own.
When notes follow her, Bulat becomes both a model for cheer and getting back up from inevitable falls. Each key that's tapped builds the continuous atmosphere of openness within her heartbreak. At the end of the day, the songwriter's words echo more to the broken hearted. When she asks "Will you let me in?" on "Let Me In", she transforms the teary energy into something akin to a Christmas carol. Lyrical shortfalls become secondary and minor when she sings such bubbly phrases. But when Bulat does break down and throws pop like a now tarnished memento, she can create tracks like "Good Advice", which resonates with a song such as Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know". Bulat can sing fairy tales and all would be good with the world.
Flexibility, ultimately, is what Good Advice can show the world. Bulat might not be the next Joanna Newsom or the person to usurp Joni Mitchell, but she does songwriters and Canadians proud by pushing forth with new material. She takes risks by adding gospel into her repertoire ("In The Name Of") and building on bluesy emoting ("Time", "Good Advice"), but she knows what her album will be when all the sounds come together: a heartfelt, yet poppy image of a lover trying to get her bearings again. When her final two tracks ("The Garden", "Someday Soon") play, she more so reflects on her current struggles rather than heralding the serious sounds that made her past efforts the way they were. Bulat positions herself gracefully as a singer with more than one dimension, one that knows that being serious, sad, and joyful can happen in the same body simultaneously.
Those who've not felt in love with Bulat's work must give Good Advice a try. These words are their own bit of good advice.