Louise Burns
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Louise Burns

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada | INDIE

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada | INDIE
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Louise Burns - Mellow Drama - Polaris Music


As a member of the former all-girl rock band Lillix, Vancouver-based pop singer Louise Burns spent her teenage years writing very commercial pop songs. Now she's returning to the music world with her debut solo album, Mellow Drama, which is her take on making fun music once again. Her latest track, the warm "Drop Names Not Bombs" is Burns' commentary on the music industry she experienced when she was younger. Burns explains to Rolling Stone that "as a teen pop star on the edge of obscurity, I've seen my fair share of 'industry' parties where music 'industry' types speak in the language of name dropping in hopes to raise their social status." Burns feels that "everyone gets their fifteen minutes, some are just more creative with what they do with it than others." Mellow Drama will be in stores on September 6th, but you can download "Drop Names Not Bombs" for free here. - Rollingstone.com


Listening to Louise Burns' debut album - Mellow Drama makes you wonder if she is one of those "old souls" as the songs embody the emotional weight of someone twice her age. This is no doubt due to the fact that she has been in an industry that can crush creative spirits since she was eleven years old, has had major success and her share of bruises as well. In Mellow Drama, Burns has crafted a reflective body of songs that are innately rock and roll. When she croons out to "What Do You Wanna Do" (that has a kind of Buddy Holly-esque swing and sweetness) she imbues the song with a potent rockabilly swagger. The song jams with a beat that is punctuated by hand claps and punched up with a nice guitar riff. In the folk rock "Teen Angst" her cigarette smokey vocal conjures up images of a young Stevie Nicks as the shuffle beat creates a day dream dance of a song. Burns sounds vulnerable singing "Standing outside in the pouring rain, no one knows why we are built this way... can't be depressed, no I can't be insane... so why do I always feel this way" and pulls at your heartstrings when she pushes her voice into those higher registers. "Clean" is a bit psychedelic and trancy with it's guitar melody often times shadowing the vocal melody. It is a bit of Mazzy Star in tone with traces of (dare I say) Duran Duran. The chorus is lush, as is the overall production. One wonders if Burns is playing all the instruments here- as the production notes state: Burns played nearly all the instruments on the record.

This record is full of gems and "Drop Names Not Bomb" (in my mind) shines the brightest or at least casts a particularly unique glow. From the first downbeat, the keyboard progression is filled with pathos all the while kicking with energy. The cadence of the melody is bouncy but the way Burns sings "drop names not bombs... his private Vietnam... crowned with the smoke stark halo... hey this man's gonna be a star" - the words fall from her lips matter of factly like she is conversing with you at a back yard party instead of singing. Not all the songs sweep you up with their infectious energy but some of the darker songs infect you just the same. "Island Vacation" with it's one two, one two step time is a twisted little waltz of a song full of some stark imagery. This vacation sounds like a bitter affair, the lyrics hold you like a straight jacket, "I had a dream that when I was asleep someone came to my room and filmed me. Watched me toss and turn. Wonder what they learned? When I woke up my nose was bleeding" and the refrain "Lady, oh lady, who will dry your cheeks? Who will dry your cheeks? Who will pay for fancy vacations?" This dark vacation sits next to another song that has a touch of the crazies. "Sea Song" with it's faster piano waltz sound has a narcotic fairy tale feel. Another surprise is "Ocean Grey" which tonally takes a severe departure from the rest of the album. Mostly clouded in a descending keyboard riff, synth swirls and a programmed beat it is a bit of dark dream pop with a kiss of 80's new wave.

Mellow Drama casts a large stylistically diverse shadow. For Burns, who penned all the songs, with the exception of "Gypsy's Wife" (a Leonard Cohen song), Mellow Drama is a startlingly good debut album. The music is captivating and not overly produced. One thing to note is that Burns is particularly adept at writing bridges which seems to be a lost art these days. Her bridges wonderfully elevate her songs. Her melodies never fight with the music that embrace them and her lyrical content compels you to wonder about the back story behind them. During a time when many artists prefer to play in the shallow waters of pop music it is refreshing to find Louise Burns swimming past the breakers and diving in deep waters.

- Adler Bloom - American Pancake


You never know which way a 25-year-old former teen-pop star is going to go. So many potential avenues are open to her. The one labeled “Springsteen-inspired homages to late ’50s and early ’60s pop” is not the expected one, however. Give Louise Burns props for creatively re-imagining her career trajectory. Better yet, give her props for a fine song, and consider it a great instance of making lemonade from lemons, as “Drop Names Not Bombs” draws upon past bad experience from her days as bass player in the teenybopper Canadian band Lillix.

Now as much as people are impelled to talk “girl group” when they hear Burns’ solo debut, Mellow Drama, there’s more to it than strict revivalism. Springsteen himself is grounded in that late ’50s/early-’60s sound, and Burns here is clearly channeling the girl-group thing via the Boss—I hear it in the chimey, piano-driven backbeat, in the organ flourishes, and most of all in the melodic resolution (check out 0:55, around the lyric “I’ll be buying them drinks all night”). As Bruce drew (and continues to draw) so much from the girl-group sound, it’s a lovely counterpoint to hear a female musician double back and tap into that same spring via his subsequent language. That the mezzo-ranged Burns sings with a hint of Ronnie Spector angst lends an extra charge to the proceedings.

And okay, while I don’t want to bog down in the Lillix story, it’s too central to ignore. Formed in Cranbrook, B.C. as a four-girl band when Burns all of 11, Lillix (originally named Tigerlily) was four years later signed by Madonna’s Time Warner-funded Maverick Records imprint. This was 2001. Fed to the star-maker machinery, they got a name change (there was a preexisting Tigerlily), were handed over to mercenary producers and songwriters (the girls had previously written their own music), and forced into pandering marketing efforts (two were sent to weight-loss camp). An early breakthrough: a cover of the Romantics’ “What I Like About You” was used by the 2002 WB sitcom of the same name. After two years of major-label fussing, the first Lillix album emerged in 2003, to mixed reviews at best; it cracked the Billboard 200, barely. In 2004, Madonna, an early booster, was driven from the label in a flurry of lawsuits. A 2006 follow-up album did well in Japan, and nowhere else, and Maverick, itself foundering, dropped the foursome while they were touring. Burns left the band and started over, diving into the Vancouver music scene and embracing noisy, experimental material as an effort to overcome both her teen-pop history and her music-industry bruises. Landing for a while in a goth-y trio called the Blue Violets, she has seemingly come to accept that she is a popster at heart. But sensitivity about her past remains. In a June interview, a couple of months after her solo debut was released in Canada, Burns said, poignantly, “It’s nice that people are giving it a chance despite my background.”

I’m giving her a good good chance. Mellow Drama was long-listed for Canada’s Polaris Music Prize in June; her label, Vancouver-based Light Organ Records, released the album in the U.S. this week. MP3 via Rolling Stone. - http://www.fingertipsmusic.com


Discography

Upcoming release - Mellow Drama LP

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According to Louise Burns, the spirit animal hovering above her new album is a Foxx. A John Foxx, to be precise, meaning the impressively cheekboned UK synth pop pioneer who fronted Ultravox in the late ‘70s. You can find a picture of Burns online, standing in a record store, the proud new owner of Foxx’s second solo LP, The Garden. Fittingly, Burns’ sophomore album is partly located in the same time and place.
“I went back to the music I first fell in love with,” she says of her latest, The Midnight Mass. “Which was the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Depeche Mode, all of my favourite influences.” You could add Berlin-era Bowie into the mix—there’s even a tense, Scott Walker-ish track called “The Lodger”—but The Midnight Mass is hardly an exercise in aping Burns’ heroes. 
She’s too much in the habit of being herself to let that happen. And so, while the glacial presence of NY no-wavers Suicide is felt in a track like “Don’t Like Sunny Days,” it’s in a sort of détente with Burns’ natural warmth, amber voice, and her instinct for a hook. And while Townes Van Zandt was a seemingly unlikely source for the slow-burning “Heaven”— “I was literally going to bed listening to the ‘For the Sake of the Song’ every night for three months,” she says—Burns tackles it like she’s in a spectral version of the Shangri-Las. The effect in either case is something like sweet depression. 
Not surprisingly, The Midnight Mass was conjured out of a tumultuous time for the artist. She describes a feeling of “displacement” that only increased after the release of her Polaris nominated solo debut Mellow Drama in 2011. “Jobs, rent, strained relationships, self-doubt— a lot of the record is about the reality check you get in your late twenties,” she says. 
As for the striking departure in style, Burns was never likely to stop exploring her private musical landscape—something she does here with the aid of producers Colin Stewart and the Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner. Sonically, The Midnight Mass is like Mellow Drama after it was shoved through the fifth dimension in a TARDIS. First single “Emerald Shatter” is draped in the heaviest of synths; electric clouds of buzz devour roiling post-punk drums in “The Artist”; her cover of the Gun Club’s “Mother of Earth” literally sounds like charged fog. 
With players James Younger, Darcy Hancock (Ladyhawk), Gregg Foreman (Cat Power), and drummer Brennan Saul (Brasstronaut) on board—with some additional help from Wagner and Dum Dum Girls’ Sandra Vu—a track like ``He`s My Woman`` becomes Rowland S. Howard doing Ennio Morricone in a mossy Romanian field (complete with Jesse Zubot’s dancing fiddle). In all cases, the instincts that have carried Burns through an almost 20 year career are never abandoned. 
“It doesn’t feel like a big change for me. I’m a pop writer,” she says, acknowledging that no amount of gleefully applied retro-future artifice can obscure the honesty of her songwriting. Ditching the feel for addictive melodies, meanwhile, would be like learning to un-walk. Louise Burns wanted to make an album that was “coherent and cinematic and beautiful and dark”—and she has—but rendering it into an item as gripping as The Midnight Mass was something she never could have helped.

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