Great Aunt Ida‘s third album has been a long time coming. In the five years since pianist and singer Ida Nilsen released her 2006 LP How They Fly, she has turned her life upside-down, moving from Vancouver to Toronto and adjusting to new homes, jobs, and marriage. Life didn’t so much get in the way as it was invited in, and recording and touring plans were put on hold.
Nuclearize Me marks Nilsen’s return to the music world, and its ten songs are a confessional response to the many changes in the songwriter’s life. The lyrics of opening track “Your Window” read like a glimpse into a private diary, as Nilsen’s character addresses a lover and reflects on the faces passed on solitary city walks. This folk-tinged, pedal steel-assisted ballad sets a gorgeously intimate tone, and the songs that follow don’t disappoint: the hard-hitting “New Information” pairs angular piano riffs and jagged electric guitars with the singer’s delicate vocals, while the fluttering melodies of “Romance” subtly evoke the lovestruck innocence of 1950s pop.
These poignant songs were gracefully rendered with help from co-producer Dave Draves (Kathleen Edwards, Gentleman Reg) at Ottawa’s Little Bullhorn Productions studio. The arrangements are rich and dynamic without distracting from the deeply personal nature of the material, and feature horn arrangements by Vancouver scene veteran Ford Pier, strings from Juno-winner Jesse Zubot, bass and backing vocals by Tim Vesely of the Rheostatics, and drums from Barry Mirochnick (Neko Case, Veda Hille). As always, the songs are anchored by Nilsen’s nimble piano playing and sweetly tuneful vocal style.
These collaborators help the songwriter to achieve a sound that is at once fragile and self-assured, both forward-thinking and timeless. While at first listen the tracks are frequently sad, they reveal a depth of understanding and sense of hope and wonder. With such carefully refined sound, it’s clear that the wait for Nuclearize Me was not in vain.