Masters of the Burial (Arts & Crafts)
If you’re going to make a record, it helps to know a few decent musicians, and lucky Amy Millan knows plenty of great ones. As a member of Stars and the seemingly boundless Broken Social Scene, Millan probably has half of Canada’s top indie-rock players on speed-dial. Those who pop up in supporting roles on Masters of the Burial include Leslie Feist, Apostle of Hustle drummer Dean Stone, Stars’ Evan Cranley and Chris Seligman, the Stills’ Liam O’Neil, and Vancouver violin master Jesse Zubot.
That might make the record, produced by Martin Davis Kinack, seem less like a solo project than a collaborative effort, but don’t be misled. Masters of the Burial, the follow-up to 2006’s Honey From the Tombs, is really all about Millan. Her invariably restrained singing is always front-and-centre, even when she’s voicing words that are not her own, which is often, considering the record contains a handful of covers, including numbers by Sarah Harmer (“Old Perfume”), Richard Hawley (“Run for Me”), Jenny Whiteley (“Day to Day”), and Death Cab for Cutie (“I Will Follow You Into the Dark”).
That last one provides the otherwise slow-moving album with its most uptempo moment, its rootsy backbeat and luminous back-roads-of-Texas steel guitar buoying a song that’s as much a celebration of life as it is a meditation on death.
Millan’s originals are more resolutely downbeat affairs, which often find the well-travelled musician exploring what, exactly, “home” means for someone whose existence can seem transient. “Though we’re losing tide/I’ll find my way back to you,” she sings on “Low Sail”, perhaps addressing an absent lover or even the parts of herself left behind in favour of a life on the road. On the spare and reverb-y “Lost Compass”, Millan considers “the places I’d never thought I’d go” before concluding that “love is crazy”.
Okay, so her observations aren’t particularly profound, but they are hard to argue with, and the album’s overall vibe—lush but never overwrought, mellow without drifting into an Ambien sleepwalk—makes Masters of the Burial a safe bet for anyone looking for something to help ease summer’s inexorable slide into the dying days of autumn.