Listen to this track by Torontonian multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Basia Bulat. It’s “Tall Tall Shadow” , the title track to her 2013 release, her third record. Bulat is known as a folk songwriter, pulling from acoustic instrumentation and storytelling traditions in that vein, complete with a penchant for performing with an autoharp – none more folk! But, on this track, it’s her pop sensibilities that are on glorious display.
“Tall Tall Shadow” and the rest of the record that bears that title was produced by Mark Lawson, and Tim Kingsbury of Arcade Fire. This perhaps explains the subtle layerings found here that go beyond the more spare leanings of her first two records.
But despite the more involved production flourishes and varied musical ingredients that include a gospel feel, it’s Bulat’s vocal delivery that sells this song for me, going past the stylistic associations with a folk or even a folk-rock style and into a more singular territory that makes deciding on what style this song actually is more of an exercise in missing the point.
This more sophisticated approach when it comes to a new sound may have something to do with a “deep loss” that Bulat has mentioned in interviews surrounding the making of the record. The one I heard was on CBC radio, and conducted by Stephen Quinn the evening before Basia Bulat was scheduled to play at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver.
During that interview, she talked about starting plans for a third album, and then feeling as though she needed to scrap those plans and start again before entering the studio. She talked about continuing to be honest, but also being less reticent about laying her thoughts bare in the songs.
The imagery in this song seems to reflect something of this struggle, with the psychologically impactful contrast of light and shadow pretty central to the drama. That’s reflected in the video, but in the song’s lyrics too.
Now every hour, change of heart
You’re running away
But the shadow is your own, your own
One day when it finds you
Take it to heart
And the question is that this song presents is who the song’s narrator is addressing; a loved one, or the narrator herself? Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s about humanity in general, embracing our dark sides, holding them in check against that which are the sources for light in our lives, with both forces defined by the other.
Learn more about Basia Bulat at her official site.