Sarah Slean

Night Bugs

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Hinting at the flood tide of wisdom harvested over the course of Slean's career as a hotly tipped independent artist, Night Bugs marks a suitably dazzling debut for this classically trained songwriter. Wielding songs that chime with a vibrancy and confidence typically elusive to artists this early in their career, it's obvious that Slean has benefited greatly from an unorthodox pact with Atlantic that enabled her to continue recording independently for years before even attempting this major label debut. Presumably as a result, there are moments on Night Bugs that seem almost incongruent with the projected output of a burgeoning artist. Indeed, it's not entirely out of line to suggest that the opening triad of "Eliot," "Weight," and "Duncan" are as decimating as any three pop songs from debuts by spiritual kin such as Tori Amos or Rufus Wainwright. Night Bugs profits further from the added presence of fellow Canadian musician (and erstwhile studio auteur) Hawksley Workman as co-producer. Workman's influence is felt most notably on the record's up-tempo numbers: The aforementioned "Eliot" swells to a climax of shuddering cellos; the gorgeous jaunt of "Sweet Ones" glides home on a sea of joyous backing vocals and handclaps; rousing closer "Bank Accounts" is sealed with a brilliant klezmer interlude and a dazzling sheen of brass. It may not be polite to suggest that a sophomore jinx looms large, but to top this (for an encore, no less) would be a considerable achievement indeed.

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