Tracy Bonham

Blink the Brightest

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You can't call Tracy Bonham prolific. Blink the Brightest is her first album release in five years and merely her third in a decade, which is slow even by modern standards. Whatever the reasons for the gaps between records, whether it's artistic inspiration or contractual complications, the delays are frustrating because Bonham gets better with each record, sounding more confident and adventurous with each subsequent album. She's still stuck in the alternative '90s, in terms of her attitude and aesthetic, and Blink the Brightest could have been released in 1996, the same year as her debut, The Burdens of Being Upright. But where PJ Harvey was a touchstone on that record, this is halfway between early Liz Phair and latter-day Aimee Mann, lacking both the commercial crossover aspiration of Ms. Liz's 2003 effort and the tasteful monotony of Mann's recent work. While Bonham can be a little lyrically clunky at times, her music is rich and varied, flowing from ornate pop to pretty sighing ballads to eerie folky confessionals and ironic indie pop. As an album, it holds together better than either of her previous LPs, and it captures the late-'90s adult alternative vibe better than the latest efforts by either Phair or Mann. And while some listeners may feel that may make Bonham a little stuck in the past, the truth is that she's just out of time -- if she moved a little faster, this could have come out in 1999, where it would have fit the times a little bit better than it does in 2005, but that detracts from the fact that Blink the Brightest is her most ambitious, fully realized, and best record to date.

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