Basia Bulat goes big, bold and bright on synth-powered Good Advice

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Basia Bulat at the Mod Club (722 College), Friday (February 19), doors 7 pm. Sold out.


Is there anything more universal than a broken heart? 

Like every great songwriter before her, Basia Bulat has always had a knack for combing through the wreckage of love and loss to find the insights best expressed in words and music. When it came to making her fourth full-length, Good Advice (Secret City), Bulat found herself soundtracking her own heartbreak – looking back at a breakup not only with sorrow, but also wisdom and understanding.

“It’s kind of the only way I know how to get through it,” Bulat explains. “When I allow myself to be vulnerable – when we’re recording and everyone in the room feels like they should open up and let their guard down, or even when performing – it kind of disarms everybody.

“So I’m less afraid now to just put it all out there. For me, the more I allow myself to go to that place – at least in art – it’s all permissible.”

Raw as the songs on Good Advice might be, they also signal a shift from Bulat’s softer folk-based sound toward a brighter, bigger pop approach (goodbye, autoharp hello, synths) only hinted at in her previous work. The rich, soulful vibe was influenced in part by her decision to head to Louisville, Kentucky, in the summer of 2014 to work with My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James.

 “I needed a little bit of perspective. Sometimes you can’t get that when you’re right in the middle of everything,” Bulat notes. “The comfort zone doesn’t even seem to exist for someone like Jim, because he does so many different things. That’s something I really admire, that kind of fearlessness.”

Taking creative risks as well as emotional ones paid off on firecracker singles like Infamous. A newfound reliance on keyboards lends the album a bolder edge. (Bulat sheepishly notes that she had to shake off the notion she wasn’t a “good enough” piano player despite having played since childhood.) Good Advice might well prove to be Bulat’s breakthrough a decade into a career marked by critical acclaim and a dedicated fan base.

“I don’t ever feel entitled to a listenership – I definitely feel lucky and grateful,” Bulat says. “I still can’t really believe that I get to keep making records, and hopefully I always feel that way. Like, ‘Who let me into the studio?’” she says, laughing. “That part feels good. But I also feel extremely lucky that people seem to want to hear something different from me each time. I’m hoping the same will be true [for this new album], but you just never know.”

music@nowtoronto.com | @tabsiddiqui

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