reviewed by Michael Thomas
Light pollution is the term for when a city’s overwhelming lights obscure what can be seen in the night sky. If you really want to see what the stars look like, you’ve got to get out of the city. Vancouver’s Bre McDaniel finds herself overwhelmed by the light sometimes on her latest EP, but she can see past it and the beauty (and heartbreak) it obscures.
It’s been some time since she released an EP, and this time around she’s returned with production and instrumentals from Jordan Klassen. It’s easy to see his influence in some of her songs—while they’re rooted in folk, she often transcends the simpler structures with majestic swells of instruments and passionate vocals.
McDaniel showcases a number of strengths from beginning to end. Starting with the calmer, more straight-laced “Chrysolite,” some strummed acoustic guitar backs up some gorgeous lyrics. She sticks with a precious-stone theme throughout, bringing a sense of beauty to ordinary objects from raining rhinestones to pearl roads to chrysolite snow.
From there, her songs take a turn for the dramatic. “Tears of St. Lawrence” has the same kind of spiritual intensity as something Klassen might have written, from the lyrics about a martyr to the strumming and atmospheric synths. “Stardust” and “Swoon,” meanwhile, are like two parts of an interstellar love story. In “Stardust,” the repetition of “Oh we’ve come so far/And oh so far to come” seems to indicate a distance that’s hard to bridge. In “Swoon,” that which is far has come closer, and it’s accompanied by a huge swell of strings.McDaniel shows loads of emotion just by singing the word “swoon” over and over again.
Speaking of repetition, “Spark” is very interesting structurally. Though it only features maybe four distinct phrases, each repetition of the words is done slightly differently—maybe it’s more drawn out one time, maybe there’s vocal harmonies another. It emphasizes the drama inherent in “a wooden throne and a few match sticks for bones” as a spark approaches.
Finally, the title track seems like a mournful look back at first. But at the 2:40 mark, as though it’s about to end, suddenly the tempo increases and a bevy of percussion brings new life into the song. It’s a very strong finish.
McDaniel proves she has the tools to transcend the limits of folk music on Light Pollution; she channels the light into something beautiful.
Top Tracks: “Swoon”; “Light Pollution”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)