So Modern (Foghorn Media)
There’s a wry nod in the title of Ivona Rose’s album. Sonically and stylistically, but especially philosophically, Rose is at best sceptical about the modern world, and, at her strongest, quite certain some parts of it are appalling.
Not that she is one to spit in the face of that ugliness – “And I don’t see/Why you can’t leave/With a kind word” she says at one point, with an attitude that may be directed at the way we treat women but can apply widely across her album. Nor is she a Luddite: there are electric guitars and synthesisers at times and this isn’t some all-around-one-microphone deal.
And she isn’t here just for the “message” either: there are songs of intimacy (internal and external) here, from the piano ballad of adults balancing love and lessons of the past, Blue Mountain, to the sensual test of motivation, Assign My Weight, where Rose sings “I sigh and I moan/Soft breath … I sigh and I moan/Surrendering”.
But she isn’t backing away from the view that “We’re so modern now it hurts/So modern now and it’s getting worse”. Modernity therefore is not a great presence here, except in contrast.
Quite keen on the autoharp (that’s it on the cover) and favouring upright bass (from the always excellent Zoe Hauptmann), with a voice and phrasing that recalls Margaret Roadknight (who the Krakow-born Rose probably has never heard) and presenting her songs simply (the production by Rose and Brian Campeau is mainly unfussy and clear), Rose occupies a seam I reckon was last productively mined here in the 1970s.
There’s folk, for sure, whether in the almost jaunty Lego Fiasco, whose brass turn becomes a compact trumpet solo by Casey Nicholson, or the elegant drawing room dance of A Kind Word. And Sacred Of The Rain blends communal singing, pastoral drift and Sunday parlour delicacy.
But there’s also the earthier end of the singer/songwriter boom, a strong tremor of art pop leanings (the aforementioned Assign My Weight and Hoopla), and maybe even some country, most notably in Borderline Affair.
Melodies are allowed to move beyond their usual space, sometimes further than they can go, but like the lyrics which lean towards poetry and feel first, and practicality second, this indulgence has its rewards when the best songs feel like free ranging journeys.
So Modern is deliberately small beer. It has no flash, it has no glaringly obvious hooks, and it isn’t so brilliant that you are dazzled and miss its flaws. However, there’s some old fashioned values in that, just as there are in the sounds and temper of Ivona Rose’s work.