Basia Bulat is not in control and she knows it. There’s even a song on her lush new record — the gently psychedelic Are You In Love? — that addresses it straight up.
“I keep trying to hold on / to my love with no control,” she sings on the dramatic “No Control,” which is both bouncy and brash. Midway through, her lyrics descend into a repetitive spiral of the title phrase, bringing on a feeling of vertigo that forces one to realize they are losing control, and swiftly.
On Are You In Love? Bulat has come to terms with the very real fact that none of us are in control of much, if anything, ever. That epiphany doesn’t come across on the record as fraught; on the contrary, the Montreal-based artist sounds deeply at peace. As dense arrangements swirl around her growing and shrinking, pushing and pulling, Bulat allows herself to go with the flow.
Maybe it’s because, as she mentions over the phone from a rehearsal break, she’s been reading Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching.
“It’s had a big influence on me,” Bulat says. “I think it really helped me a lot with those kinds of feelings that don’t don’t help in your journey at all. So you have to just accept a lack of control.”
Bulat’s lack of control was thrown into sharp relief by a number of circumstances that happened around the album’s creation: her father died, she fell in love, and she got married. She headed to the desert in Joshua Tree, California to make the record and had written a lot of it before any of those life-altering events had happened. She says it’s come to feel akin to fortune-telling. “It was like I was writing it preparing myself for what I was going to go through,” Bulat says.
Before starting work on the album, Bulat emailed friend and producer Jim James (of My Morning Jacket, who also produced her last record, Good Advice) to tell him she wanted to make a record about compassion, “And try to find this way that talks about all the scarier stuff that comes along with it,” Bulat explains.
“When I went back and looked at those emails, it was kind of stunning because I went through these periods of feeling like I had no clarity. Grief takes a lot out of your sense of self and you feel like you can’t quite see straight. Your perspective shifts multiple times, and there’s no right or wrong way to go through that process and maybe you never change. It just always evolves. Maybe it never really goes away.”
As heavy as the themes of the record are, the songs never feel burdened. Instead, they’re open to possibility, and they often blossom gently and in no rush, allowing the listener to slip into them like dreams. They reflect the scene Bulat paints of her time with her co-conspirators at Joshua Tree—a relaxed one filled with laughter, fires, dust devils, and a commitment to bearing witness to glorious sunsets. But they are also of the world, not seeking escape from it. “Light Years,” for example, shimmers with a spacey softness, but its message is grounded: “No matter how long you lost track of time / when you’re out of your mind / in the loneliest night you still belong / no matter how far you’ve gone.”
“The compulsion to measure, to compare, to look negatively on your own journey by always looking outside to the journey of someone else—in the grand scheme of time, that takes away from where you are and where you’re going,” Bulat says. “Things take the time that they’re meant to.”
Given the enlightened sentiments on Are You In Love?, I’m compelled to ask Bulat if she feels as wise as she sounds. She laughs off the idea and turns to a line from “My Back Pages”—“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”—by Bob Dylan. “With every passing day, that’s the feeling that I have,” Bulat says.
“I’m always trying to get better spiritually, musically, personally,” Bulat says. “I’m always trying to grow. As an artist, it’s really fun because the deeper you go or the more layers of the onion you peel—like, ‘What’s under here?’—you kind of get excited about what’s underneath. There’s a joy in experimenting for me where before I would have had some trepidation or fear. Now I don’t fear as much. I used to just let things stop me in my tracks. And now I think I’m a lot stronger.”