New To Us – Haley Bonar

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Who?
In her own words solo artist, Haley Bonar is a thirty three year old Taurus, who lives with her daughter Clementine and also sings in the band Gramma’s Boyfriend.

What?
Not an easy artist to pin down, Haley’s music dips its toe into various genres without ever settling on one particular sound; there’s nods to 80’s indie, new-wave, Spectorish girlbands and alt-country; all delivered with a delicious pop sheen.

Where?
Although originally from Canada, Haley is now based out of the city of Saint Paul. The capital city of Minnesota, Saint Paul has a population of just over 300,000, making it the state’s second biggest city. The city is based along the east bank of the Mississippi river, and adjoins the state’s largest city, Minneapolis; together they are known at the twin cities, and makes up the 16th-largest metropolitan area in the United States. St Paul was known as a hotbed of prohibition-era gangster life, something the residents are apparently oddly still proud of. According to the St. Paul Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city was originally a bit ashamed of its past, but, “now has no qualms about polishing up its bad-boy past and selling the romance of gun molls and guys in pinstripe suits.” Famous residents of the city include author F.Scott Fitzgerald, Peanuts creator Charles Schultz and their most famous musical export, Hüsker Dü.

When?
Haley released her debut album, …The Size Of Planets back in 2003. A second album, Lure The Fox, followed which saw her sign to local label, Afternoon Records. Her third album Big Star followed in 2008, before she teamed up with Graveface Records to release 2011’s Golder and 2014’s Last War, which also had a UK release courtesy of Memphis Industries. Her latest album, Impossible Dream came out earlier this month on Gndwire Records (US) and Memphis Industries (UK).

Why?
While most bands press releases like to spell out the story, on Impossible Dream, Haley doesn’t only not provide one, she implores us not to look for one. As Haley puts it, “everybody wants a story. Something to sell. I’m here to tell you that there isn’t one with this album.” The themes of the record are as diverse as the music that accompanies them, there’s tales of homosexuality, the death of youth, parents and parenthood; crucially though she tells us not to look too deep, but to find our own meanings and our own interpretations.

Impossible Dream is proving to be something of a commercial break through for Haley, any 6music listener will attest that recent single Kismet Kill has been almost unavoidable. Luckily it’s very good, upbeat alt-pop into the mould of Metric or Rilo Kiley; lyrically it tackles teen pregnancy (“we’re the kids who had kids at parties”) but also more subtly explores the ferocious pace of the ageing process, and how we inevitably regret our youthful dalliances, as Haley sings, “I was impossible, when I was beautiful.”

Elsewhere the sheer variety of the record shines, seemingly whatever sound Haley turns her hand to, she manages to do a fine job of recreating. There’s the easy Cat Power like sway of Hometown, the breezy new-wave synth pop of Stupid Face and the breezy 90’s alt-pop of Blue Diamonds Fall.

Best of all is the sublime Jealous Girls, an expansive pop record, the obvious reference point is the Phil Spector produced girl-group classics, but like fellow modern acts Natalie Prass or Basia Bulat, she manages to create something altogether more interesting. Lyrically it’s complex, and open to interpretation, it seems to hint at doomed relationships, but also the difficulties of being taken seriously as a woman in a man’s world. She notes, “you look just as good when you speak the truth” and it’s hard to know who she’s singing to, is it for her daughter? Her lover? Herself? Whatever she intended, whoever was meant to get this beautiful message, it’s fabulous.

Why Not?
At times it seems a little unfocused, and a couple of the tracks are a bit flimsy in comparison to the material around them. The sheer variety does also lead to it feeling less like a cohesive album and more like an excellent collection of snap shots. None the less you’d be hard pushed to be anything but impressed by Haley’s songwriting prowess.

Impossible Dream is out now via Memphis Industries. Haley Bonar tours the UK in October, click HERE for details.

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