Album review: Bonar fights for well-deserved attention
It seems hard to believe, but Haley Bonar was making a name for herself back when Trampled By Turtles was but a mere hippie prophecy. This weekend, she’s opening for them at Bayfront Park in support of her new album, “Last War.”
Low’s also on the bill of that show, and as indie-rock lore goes, Alan Sparhawk discovered Bonar at one of those “Experimental Tuesday” deals that used to happen at the NorShor Theatre, back when that place was old and creaky and nearly condemned. These days, the NorShor is about to become a renovated multimillion-dollar jewel of the north, and Bonar is still kicking it.
She gets a lot of singer/songwriter-type media attention, but one gets the sense listening to “Last War” that Bonar is eager to assert herself as more than just a person singing sad songs with an acoustic guitar. “Kill the Fun” comes out of the gate like a close relative of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” more than it does something from the Joni Mitchell songbook. “I’ll be here ’til morning,” she sings, her voice glossy, double-tracked and harmonized. “We’re getting pretty good at being something that we’re not.” It’s an uptempo pop blast.
“No Sensitive Man” is positively new-wavey, almost like a nervy Blondie track; the chorus explodes into power chords and synths. “I don’t want no sensitive man / I don’t wanna talk,” she sings, her voice even breaking into a slight scream. “You can get away with anything, these days.”
The title track is more pensive, with Bonar cooing her vocals over a Radiohead-like bed of clicking sticks and loud bass guitar. Ambient waves of shoegaze guitars break over the chorus, while on “Heaven’s Made for Two,” things get so reverb-y that the song starts to sound like something from a John Hughes movie, and when it goes bonkers at the end out of nowhere, it’s almost proggy.
Bonar’s songwriting and singing is as strong as ever, though, even if the music is less Americana or folkie than it may have been in the past. She’s got a great way with keeping a melody simple and focused. She never oversings, dropping melisma in place of craft, and this is a valuable trait. When her voice breaks, it isn’t because she’s exerting herself, it’s because she’s centered and present, feeling the song.
It’s a modern album — even down to the Justin Vernon cameo — and it could easily appeal to a variety of music fans. Whether this is the one that gets her wider attention will remain to be seen, but Bonar has crafted another collection of music that deserves to be heard.
Haley Bonar / “Last War”
Produced by: Haley Bonar
Personnel: Haley Bonar (vocals, guitar), others
Upcoming show: 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Bayfront Park, Sixth Avenue West and Railroad Street
Tickets: $25, trampledbyturtles.com
Listen to “Last War”
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.