Simple pleasures abound on Amy Millan’s newly released solo album, Masters of the Burial, but few of these pleasures approach anything near transcendent. Perhaps that’s Millan’s intention. Given that she usually spends her time adding considerable color to bands that push pop music in unexpected and ambitious directions, such as Stars and Broken Social Scene, maybe Masters of the Burial is determinedly slight. Maybe there’s only so much time you can spend working on bold and elaborate compositions before you just want to take a breather and record a largely breathy and spare folk album propped up to full length album status by a few choice covers.
Consequently, Masters of the Burial is an album that is hard to take too seriously, and that’s probably just the way Millan wants it. One imagines that if Millan had higher aspirations than to offer a pleasant background for her listener, she probably would have eschewed the Death Cab For Cutie cover that shows up near albums end. I mean, it’s been less than five years since that song was first released, and no amount of lap steel and banjo will make this version seem essential. Likely, Millan just really likes the song and wanted to sing it, no matter how unnecessary and unrequested this version is.
Unsurprisingly, Millan has an easier time putting her stamp on songs that are less popular, particularly on her beautifully spare and subtly spooky cover of Richard Hawley’s “Run For Me.” Jenny Whiteley’s “Day to Day” gets the most sonically brave treatment on Masters of the Burial, stripped down to nothing more than Millan’s voice and a rudimentary drum beat. It’s a welcome piece of pop experimentation that succeeds due to a lack of pretension and self-conscious quirkiness.
Otherwise, the proceedings are sweet and pretty, a tad milquetoast in their approach, but never entirely uninteresting. Smartly, Millan keeps Masters of the Burial brief, barely breaking the half hour mark. Perhaps Millan is aware that this sort of languid folk can only be listened to for so long before the listener’s heart rate noticeably slows and he/she must decide to either perk back up or give in to a seemingly impending nap.
Again, Masters of the Burial is not boring, but it follows a uniformly leisurely pace. The drums are brushed ever so gingerly, the violins gently weep, and Millan coos her tales of heartbreak and woe so peacefully that you’d be forgiven for not fully registering the sad nature of her lyrics. It’s the aural equivalent of a timid back massage: Millan applies enough pressure to keep the listener mildly aware of how pleasant and relaxing the whole affair is, but never enough to cajole any truly significant mental reaction. But then again, her day jobs probably provide her with all of the musical bluster she can handle.