Amy Millan—Masters of the Burial (Arts & Crafts, 2009)
Review by Hugh Lilly
Amy Millan is a Canadian singer-songwriter who has been in the indie super group Broken Social Scene and the band Stars, as well as contributing to albums by Kevin Drew and Jason Collett; most recently she appeared on Gomez’s A New Tide. This is her second solo album after 2006’s Honey from the Tombs, and marks a departure toward a more rustic, country tone. Its sound is especially distinct from Stars’ modulated jangles—my iTunes has one of their albums classified as “chamber pop”—and the varied sounds of Broken Social Scene, who flit between quiet, baroque experimental tracks and a sort of rough, explosive—but exciting and danceable—aural bombardment.
While most of the tracks on Tombs could quite easily be called folk-pop, Burial, with its more pronounced banjo and steel guitars, is both more considered and relaxed—ultimately, more fragile. Unlike Tombs, which had Millan double-tracking or with at least one backup singer on nearly every track, the new album sees her mostly alone at the mic, accompanied only on a few tracks—and at least once by Leslie Feist, a fellow Broken Social Scene alumnus.
“Day to Day,” a cover of a song by fellow Canadian Jenny Whiteley, is here given a hollow, odd cadence: Millan’s vocals are backed only by fuzzy, coldly electronic percussion. “Towers,” a spare acoustic track with banjo and mandolin, is reminiscent of Bic Runga circa Drive, only not as emphatically emotional. A country-fied cover version of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” almost drowned in sumptuous pedal steel, is initially a bit out of step with the other tracks but reveals a gentle sweetness upon multiple listens—in fact, it stands out as one of the best tracks on the album.
“Broken,” the record’s closer, is, like the opener “Bruised Ghosts,” a slow, fiddle-driven country song in the vein of Norah Jones and some of Gillian Welch’s more handsome, less folksy songs. The record’s maudlin title telegraphs the fact that, like its 2006 predecessor, Millan’s second solo outing isn’t lyrically upbeat—but that doesn’t preclude it from being endlessly entertaining.