Basia Bulat

Oh, My Darling

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Basia Bulat had already made quite a splash in Britain and her native Canada before her full-length debut, Oh, My Darling, even made it out to the United States. And it's easy to see why she's been so popular. She has an easygoing, friendly style that borrows heavily from the chick-rock craze of the 1990s, songs full of warm melodies and sweet vocals. But where someone like Natalie Merchant was able to delve into the complexities of life and love intelligently and without relying too much on sentimentality or cliché, Bulat's lyrics and instrumental lines aren't quite able to push past those barriers into something truly interesting. "I want to hang on, even though you're gone/And it won't be long 'til winter's gone, again" she states in the saccharine "December," the forced profundity falling heavy, despite the ukulele, strings, piano, and guitar that crowd and lift her voice. Instead, it is her singing that is the most appealing thing about Oh, My Darling, an alluring, folky vibrato-filled mix of the aforementioned Natalie Merchant, Antony Hegarty, fellow Canadian Serena Ryder, and even, strangely enough, Ted Leo, whose phrasing and melodic lines she mimics in songs like "Snakes and Ladders" and "Little One." Unfortunately, the rest of the album doesn't quite match the strength of her voice. Occasionally she manages to find that space where polish meets sincerity and originality, like in the sparser "Birds of Paradise," one of the few tracks in which the twinkling piano actually seems appropriate and is not overused, but more frequently the production (courtesy of Howard Bilerman, who's also worked with the Arcade Fire) presses everything down so smoothly and cleanly that it's hard to believe the album isn't being pushed for mainstream radio play by a major label. Oh, My Darling is certainly an inoffensive offering, with moments of clean pop honesty, but more often its naïve simplicity makes it a little too uninteresting to swallow.

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