Sunday, December 9, 2012

How Have I Never Reviewed Heather Nova's Classic Glowstars?!

The Good: Awesome voice, Creative lyrics and music
The Bad: Some production limitations, Shorter than I like
The Basics: With an ambitious first full studio album, Heather Nova defines her presence on the musical scene by creating deeply emotive lyrics and backing them with her powerful voice with Glowstars.

I hate certain aspects of pop culture. The IM phrasings and media obsession with bug the crap out of me. So, it's rare I employ anything resembling such things. My reaction, when surfing Heather Nova's discography was one of shock when I discovered I had never reviewed Heather Nova's album Glowstars. I sat up and actually said, "Oh My Gawd!" I feel like such a Valley Girl for that and shall go flog myself appropriately following this review.

Glowstars, Heather Nova's first full studio album (her album These Walls or The First Recording, is essentially an EP with only four tracks) is a triumphant debut that sets the pace for her musical career. Thus far, Nova has created two perfect albums (Siren and South) and two more that are so close a less conservative listener might consider them as great (Oyster and Redbird). Glowstars is not a perfect album, but from her beginning with it, Heather Nova revealed the talents she would cultivate into an artist capable of creating perfection.

Glowstars is a twelve track pop-rock album written and performed by singer-songwriter Heather Nova. It's an auspicious start, with just under forty-five minutes of music. The twelve tracks are all written and sung by Nova and she plays guitars and keyboards on various tracks. It ought to be emphasized that from the beginning Heather Nova was creating an aura of a well-rounded musical artist. She understands music, she plays instruments, she writes the poetry, she sings her songs.

Heather Nova's sound on Glowstars is unrefined, yet distinct. She has great range, going from alto to soprano on various tracks, though her tendency tends to be for the mid-range. The refreshing thing about Glowstars is that throughout, her voice is presented as one of the musical instruments. On "Second Skin," it is her high pitched harmonizing that is captivating beyond the guitars and drums. Never on this album is her voice produced over. Wisely, her mixer, Felix Tod, keeps her voice untouched and front and center.

It's a beautiful voice, too. Nova's sound rivals that of the more commercially successful Sheryl Crow or the equally artistic Sophie B. Hawkins. Nova's voice is powerful (as on "Mothertongue"), sweet ("All The Way") and longing ("My Fidelity") throughout the album. Her ability to radically change her emotions, the way she emotes, is part of what makes her such a powerful performing artist.

Equally impressive, Heather Nova constructs beautiful poetry that she sets to music, the music accompanies - accents - the poetry. She does not use the music as a crutch to bail out poor lyrics. This is especially clear on "Frontier," when Nova is eerily presenting lines like "Taking hold of what we have / It's easy now; / We're splitting it open / To eat the seeds. / Looking in at what we've found, / It's easy now; / This big horizon, / It's you and me." She sings these stark lines to minimal instrumentals, letting the lines and their implications wash over the listener. She is brilliant at arranging the music to accent the poetry.

So, even on her darker tracks, the music accents the emotions of the piece. On "Shaking the Doll," the lion's share of the quality of the piece comes in the violin accompaniment. They are harsh and in perfect time to underscore the lines about digging into herself. This is a well-calibrated pop-rock album designed to illicit emotions.

The album starts with the disarming children's voices in "Bare" and quickly goes into the wrenching loneliness of "My Fidelity." This is a hard album to talk about a best track because there are so many fine songs. It is generally a darker album, about loneliness, isolation and healing separation. “Glowstars,” the single, is one of the few upbeat tracks. As Heather Nova implores, "Kiss me, kiss me, under a glow-star sky / If they're stuck on the ceiling I don't mind . . ." (“Glowstars”) the listener is filled with the youthful optimism of first love. And strangely, for the somewhat sugary lyrics, it does not sound as light as the lyrics might imply. It is a dizzy song, but not a fluff track. The shortest track on the album, "All The Way," which is under a minute, Nova illustrates just how succinct a song can be to express exactly what it intends to.

Ultimately, Glowstars - the album - is for anyone who wants a diverse listening experience coming from an up and coming, strong female voice. Heather Nova has grown quite a bit musically since Glowstars, but this album foreshadows her ability by presenting articulate, poetic lyrics with music that perfectly accompanies it.

The best track is "Shell" which is one of the most haunting songs ever with its minimal guitar, whispy background harmony, and woodpecker-like percussion that echoes into the listener's subconscious. The low point of the album might well be "Bare" which is hard to understand and ends with children talking. At least the album gets better immediately!

For other Heather Nova album reviews, please be sure to check out:
Live From The Milky Way
The Jasmine Flower
300 Days At Sea


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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