Published Nov 06, 2019Since leaving BC band Lillix over a decade ago, Louise Burns has been quite the consistent singer-songwriter, with three albums of atmospheric pop tunes that, while often satisfying, never quite seemed to get the sort of foothold she arguably deserves. As album number four drops, maybe that will change — Portraits is perhaps her most focused work yet, a neat slice of raw pop, offering up a series of jaunty tunes, complicated by at-times bittersweet emotion woven through it all.
Opener "Like a Dream" sets the tone tidily — with a pop beat that could be a spiritual successor to Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn," it grabs attention, while shifting gear to find its own feet as a goosebump-inducing few minutes of layered, guitar-inflected dream pop. Those dreamy vibes surface more than a few times on Portraits, with "Cherry" offering a driving rhythm and a wall of sound as a canvas over which Burns' vocals glow.
While the often-airy tracks offer up a slightly hazy ambiance where Burns' voice could end up merging too heavily with the music, her vocals are a beacon throughout the album. Burns' rich and full voice elevates most tracks, and saves some of the weaker cuts — "Over You," an ode to post-romantic rebound, has admirable sentiments, but is musically pedestrian. Fortunately, some compelling vocals pull it into serviceable territory.
But for all her strength, there is one element of Burns' vocals that might prove a drawback — the lyrics. There's a certain rawness across the album, drawing on emotional strains of late '80s and early '90s pop (to say nothing of the sonic motifs pulled from that era — synthesized steel drums and some wailing sax are put to ear-catching use on "Just Walk Away"). But that rawness at times risks crossing a line into cliché, with talk of being "together forever" and "cry[ing] all night" in relation to love interests. Burns manages to make it work most of the time, belting those emotions out with a sense of unabashed bravado, but such a blunt approach might get under the skin of some.
Yet Burns scores points for the directness of her emotions, and it works to excellent effect in tracks like "Clowns," a slow-ish jam that manages to make self-consciousness and social anxiety groovy — it's these moments of smooth musicality with a hint of weirdness that most successfully show why Burns is such an underrated pop music figure. (Light Organ)