Pianist and singer Ida Nilsen found her own voice on Great Aunt Ida's 2005 debut, Our Fall. And now, with How They Fly, she's making that voice a little easier for others to discover. The earlier disc was a sombrely beautiful collection of whispery monologues, but on Great Aunt Ida's second effort Nilsen is singing from centre stage -- and from a new place of confidence in her art.
Many of the key features from the first Great Aunt Ida CD remain: the overall intimacy of the presentation; the rigorously uncomplicated arrangements; the sense of being given access to a secret world. On How They Fly, however, that world is less shadowy -- not sunny, necessarily, but certainly more fully illuminated. And Nilsen, it seems, is blooming in the spotlight. Her new tunes are much more immediate, both in the way they were made and the way they strike the ears.
"A lot of them kind of came right away, and I didn't have to do very much about them," she notes. "It was just a lot more natural. And I find that's true lyrically, as well; they're not coded. They're pretty straight up, although I don't know if they'll come across that way."
For the benefit of the curious, Nilsen parses some of her material.
"Extra Hours", she hints, contains a steely determination within what is otherwise an open-hearted love song. "It's about trying to get through," she says. "The things that make you love someone are the same reasons why you have problems, so it's just about trying to remember that and trying to deal with the difficult situations that inevitably come up in our relationships."
In contrast, the sweet-yet-angular "We Say No" is an indication of Nilsen's fierce independence in more personal matters.
"It starts as a sort of rant about the music industry, and then with the next verse it sort of goes into general feelings of irritation towards people," she explains, adding that it was going to be her new disc's title song, until a little last-minute market research persuaded her otherwise.
"I decided that it sounded a bit negative, and gave off a forceful connotation that wasn't really suitable for the situation," she notes. "I like How They Fly because I think it sounds interesting and a bit vague, but I didn't really ponder over that as much as I pondered over other things. It was kind of a quick pick. I thought 'Okay, that's good enough.' "
If that's so, it's one of the few instances on her new Canada Council-funded CD where Nilsen decided that "good enough" was, well, good enough. Throughout the disc, her own impeccable singing and playing are bolstered by the equally well-considered contributions of bandmates JP Carter (Inhabitants, Fond of Tigers) on trumpet, Scott Malin (Joel RL Phelps & the Secret Three) on electric bass, and Barry Mirochnick (Veda Hille, Neko Case, Christine Fellows) on drums. Ford Pier and Jon Anderson add supportive guitars throughout, while co-producer Tim Vesely (Rheostatics, Violet Archers), Nick Krgovich (p:ano), string players Jesse Zubot and Finn Manniche, and Veda Hille also make cameo appearances. Colin Stewart engineered, with the bulk of the tracks being recorded in 12 days at Vancouver's The Hive studio.