Louise Burns has felt the weight of the past few years — how could she not? — but with her fifth solo full-length, Element, the acclaimed Vancouver producer-songwriter developed...
Louise Burns has felt the weight of the past few years — how could she not? — but with her fifth solo full-length, Element, the acclaimed Vancouver producer-songwriter developed a sonic daydream to help offset unprecedented, terrifying global change.
“For me, there is nothing more radical than being joyful despite what you’re going through,” Burns explains, adding that her new, nine-song album is about “creating a world in which you can find peace when the real one ain’t deliverin’.” All told, Element is a plush and expansive tableau about holding your head high as you tunnel out of the emotional wreckage of life as we know it. Though conceived as pop music for introverts, Element’s hooks are undeniably immediate.
Contrasting the L.A.-based recording sessions of 2019’s Portraits, Burns pieced Element together over a two-and-a-half-year span between home and Mexico. Through its earliest writing sessions in the spring of 2020, Burns — a professional, traveling musician since the age of 15 — found herself grounded in British Columbia for the longest stretch of time since the early ‘00s, and she was experiencing anxiety and an artistic wanderlust because of it.
“I had never in my adult life stayed at home for that long, and I’m just talking the first three months of the pandemic. That was a really interesting feeling,” Burns says. “Just by default, I started writing music to create a sense of escapism for myself, choosing a more atmospheric and airier sonic aesthetic to create a sense of movement, despite being stuck in one place.”
Much of Element was co-produced with Jason Corbett (ACTORS) at his Jacknife Studios in Vancouver, the sessions beginning with an elegant, Bryan Ferry-inspired remodeling of Depeche Mode’s “See You,” Burns tracking synths with her dog Ruby at her feet.
Elsewhere, Element builds off the ‘lax, but lush reverberations of Burns’ 2020 remix album, Silhouette, through its backbone of electronics and sampled percussion. Inspired by the ocean breeze of her part-time residence in Baja Sur, “Play Pretend” weaves the soothing sound of literal humpback whales into its digitized snare hits. With opener “I Don’t Feel Like I Used To,” she marries a southern gothic guitar twang with the incandescent hypnotism of trip-hop beatmaking.
Burns adds of the latter: “I didn’t know what direction my record would take. Do I go back to a folk-influenced sound that I did before, or do I want to go even more into electronic music? Both are passions of mine, so I guess ‘I Don’t Feel Like I Used To’ meets those in the middle.”
Element’s other connections include guitar work from longtime collaborator Darcy Hancock, and soft-focus synth lines from nêhiyawak’s Matthew Cardinal on the title track, while vocologist Carol-Lynne Quinn co-plotted a series of R&B-inspired vocal runs with Burns (“This record is quite challenging for me to sing,” Burns notes humbly). “Kids,” co-produced by ambient artist Colin Janz (Teset), marks a brave path forward for Burns as her first formal love song.
“It’s about me finding a person from my past, and reconnecting. There’s a sadness about time wasted, but also an appreciation of what we currently have,” Burns notes, though adding of a post-pandemic weariness, “We can’t help but think of death right now. Even if this is good, it’s still limited. How sad, yet how precious is that?”
Change is an inevitability; the past few years have taught us that. While technically herself the whole way through, perhaps now more than ever before Louise Burns finds herself fully in her element.
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