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Louise Burns: The Midnight Mass, more like a requiem

Louise Burns listened to Townes Van Zandt and then Neil Young’s Dead Man for a year before recording the downcast The Midnight Mass.

Title
The Midnight Mass
Artist
Louise Burns
Label
Light Organ
Genre
Pop
Year
2013

Louise Burns is dead to me.

On her sophomore solo album The Midnight Mass, the sultry Vancouverite is in Heaven (a dreamy, tambourined pop song). But to find her we need to look down, not up. "I'm tired and I'm weary, six feet underground," Burns sings, off camera. "I'm laughing and crying, but no one hears me now."

But I hear her, and sometimes her lifelessness gets me real low.

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Melancholic music needn't be depressive – Townes Van Zandt, the worried-mind troubadour who died too young, knew that. Burns, a young mope, is still learning.

In a recent interview, the singer-songwriter said she had been listening to Van Zandt as well as Neil Young's experimental Dead Man soundtrack for a full year before making The Midnight Mass. "I honestly thought I'd make a country record when I first started writing," she said. I wish she had followed through on that, because my favourite track here by far is He's My Woman, a cinematic piece of Nashville noir that might intrigue Morricone and Tarantino both.

But The Midnight Mass is no more a country album than Loretta Lynn is disco. The album, instead, is steeped in the moody, synthesized styles of the Cure and other '80s miserablists. Burns's collaborators include the Dum Dum Girls drummer Sandra Vu and the album co-producer Sune Rose Wagner (of the retro-futuristic Raveonettes). The result is a hazy shimmer of low-key pop, with lyrical themes of lightness and darkness, seasonal changes and general restlessness.

Burns's dusky warble is comparable to Jenny Lewis or Stevie Nicks. (Fans of Fleetwood Mac might hear a little Gypsy in Burns's Ruby.) She rhymes "emeralds shatter" with "it doesn't matter." And there are new ideas on alchemy: On Don't Like Sunny Days, she suggests that gold can turn into brass, "if you don't let go of your past."

Things would have turned out differently if she had taken her own advice. Instead? "I went back to the music I first fell in love with," Burns explains in the album's press sheet. Indeed, this does seem like a step backward from her promising Mellow Drama debut from 2011. Still, there's a lot of talent within her. Chances are she'll rise again.

ALSO THIS WEEK IN MUSIC

Top selling albums in Canada for the week ending July 7: Bruno Mars's Unorthodox Jukebox topped LPs by Daft Punk (Random Access Memories), Kanye West (Yeezus), Imagine Dragons (Night Visions) and Black Sabbath (13).

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Top single: Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines, from the forthcoming album of the same name, has reached quadruple-platinum status after spending eight consecutive weeks atop the Canadian SoundScan digital songs chart.

Also released this week: Daughn Gibson's moody mountain twang Me Moan, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's exclamatory That's It!, Dustin Bentall and the Smokes' power-tuned, roots-rocking You Are An Island, Maps' thoughtful synth-popping Vicissitude and Ciara's self-titled, fifth full-length album.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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