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Bonsai Review

by Marcy Donelson

Bonsai singer and songwriter Simone Stevens has a name like a screen siren from Hollywood's Golden Age, which is fitting because she kind of sounds like one. She has a silvery tone and a classic, lucid delivery that is relatively rare for women in indie/alternative, where a lot of affected enunciation and straining tends to get attention. On Bonsai's eponymous five-track debut, her timeless tone is so sweet it begins to approach preciousness at times, like in the verses of the talky "I Like You Man," but is held in check by simple allure. The music has a nostalgic quality, too, with hints of '50s and '60s girl groups, Phil Spector, and surf music, all the while anchored firmly in 21st century dream pop. Produced by Dan Molad of Lucius (another female-led, retro-flavored Brooklyn band), the record is marked instrumentally by effects-steeped guitar work from Stevens, Lucius' Peter Lalish, and Greg McMullen, who contributes some notable, sound-defining pedal steel. Speaking of pedal steel and again of nostalgia, "I Fashion You're a Dreamer" presents a reverby, pedal-steel dreamscape. It evokes reverie with low-pitched, distant, thudding drums, like a heartbeat, distorted hula sounds, and intimate lyrics sung with wistful vocals that might laugh or cry after the song ends ("I never fashioned you a dreamer/I saw you suffer in a melody called reality"). "When It Rains" uses hazy, echoing, droplet-like effects to create spectral colors, a bit like a film's drunken flashback sequence maybe involving a carousel, sounds spinning and snuggling Stevens' clear, poised vocals. The contrast between her vocals and all of the nebulous instrumental business really works; throughout the record, things are a little off and comforting at the same time. The panorama makes for an intriguing and memorable first listen, and fans of the sound may find Bonsai quickly addictive.

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