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Disc of the Week
If one were to judge Sarah Slean's Night Bugs by its glossy cover, they might think she is yet another pop-rock musician who sold out. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise Night Bugs is, afterall, this Toronto singer-songwriter's major label debut and we're all well aware of the cliché: Indie to major label = selling out. More money, but worse music.
Sarah Slean seemed like she was heading in that direction. Warner gave her lots of money, prettied her up and threw in a big name producer for her debut album. She appears to be more glossy, but thankfully, that co-producer was Hawksley Workman. A talented musician in his own right, it's clear that Workman's production and influence fuels Night Bugs.
Slean's major-label debut is a great improvement from her previous independent releases. Coming a couple of years after her last release, Blue Parade, Slean has no doubt matured, but hints of her youth and vulnerability are still apparent in her quivering vocals.
The overall product Workman has helped create is different from his production of Tegan and Sara's This Business of Art, but reflects the sound of his own solo albums.
It's more in-your-face cabaret pop with an emphasis on more worldly sounds that stray away from the typical drums+guitar+piano+bass formula of pop-rock. This is best demonstrated in the album closer, "Bank Accounts," a fun track in which Workman plays not only the drums and guitar, but also the organ, timpani and conga drums.
Still, Slean holds her own as co-producer, arranging and conducting almost all of the horns and strings. Her forté remains her piano playing. Despite the full sound the variety of instruments produce, neither the arrangements or production overshadows the power of her piano talent.
A fine example of this can be heard in the European flavoured "Book Smart, Street Stupid" and "Weight," a song that is given the full treatment with synth, vibraphone and wurlitzer.
Night Bugs' single, "Sweet Ones," subtly reveals Slean's pop-sensibility a great contrast to the more dramatic ballads such as "Me, I'm a Thief" and "My Invitation," which have garnered her comparisons to Tori Amos.
Like it or not, Slean is not Amos, nor any other famous Canadian Sarah. If Night Bugs is any indication of the future, Sarah Slean can produce quality music independently or on a major label.