Sarah Blasko: An Intimate Voice, An Inventive Sound
I want to start talking about Sarah Blasko's As Day Follows Night by noting how a music critic can introduce you to a record that delights you -- partly in thanks and partly because it doesn't happen to me as much as it used to. The critic in question is Blasko's fellow Australian, Robert Forster, formerly one of the songwriting co-leaders of The Go-Betweens. Turns out he's an astute, articulate judge of other musicians' work, and without the Blasko review in Forster's collection The 10 Rules of Rock and Roll, I never would have picked up on As Day Follows Night.
When you're in sync with a music writer, you usually have one of two responses to his observations. Either "I hear what you hear, but it doesn't mean the same thing to me" or "I hear what you hear and I'm with you." Forster got me to Blasko by making me agree with him about the basics -- her sound and her words.
The sound springs from Blasko's collaboration with Swedish producer Bjorn Yttling, of Peter Bjorn and John. A good shorthand way to explain Yttling's approach is to say that he frames voices and songs rather like the American Jon Brion. You feel intimate with the singer's voice right away, and only later notice inventive touches that round out everything. Like the brilliant musical saw in "All I Want."
Forster rightly praises the plainness and specifics of Blasko lines like "When all your life you waited for someone to understand / to wake you up and speak your name." She's not always so fresh. But every time there's a finger worked to the bone, for instance, she adds a twist in her voice or a lilt in the melody to keep the cliche from just lying there.
Blasko's theme is as old as romance itself -- an intricate, volatile relationship that alternates between joyful affirmation and collapse. Relationship albums may seem like obvious undertakings, but they are challenging. Earlier this year, the gifted Tracey Thorn released a similar-themed album that was flatter and more predictable than As Day Follows Night. Part of the reason is old-fashion warmth and soul, but part is melodies that tug hard on the ear.
Catchiness isn't everything -- by itself, it can be mechanical. But if touched by soul and savvy, catchiness is an asset. And after a couple of listens, it's easy to recognize every track on Blasko's album with pleasure. Even ones with the anguish of "I Never Knew."
Finally, one wouldn't expect an introspective album about love's torments to be headlong rocking, but As Day Follows Night avoids the temptation to be too slow and sluggish, of confusing meditation with moping. You can feel the bodily fluids pulsing behind the sighs. You don't expect a happy ending, exactly, but Blasko makes you pull for her happiness with determined numbers like "We Won't Run" and "No Turning Back." That makes letdowns like "Lost & Defeated" cut with jagged edges.
Then, at the last moment, in the wistful finale "Night and Day," Blasko affirms that, whatever the outcome of love, the game is worth it. And you accept that the rest is silence.
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