Toronto, ON has been good to Ida Nilsen. Or maybe time and experience have just worked their relentless magic. Whatever the case, Great Aunt Ida has grown in grace and confidence over the past five years. The former Vancouverite comes out of the shadows on her third release, bringing both a stronger melodic backbone and newly self-assured vocals. The album’s textures are as warm and organic as Nilsen’s work has ever been, but this time they lie over melodies that are more focused and accessible than the ones on 2006’s gentle, meandering How They Fly. The songs are rich and instrumentally creative. Nilsen’s piano shares time with guitars of all kinds – electric, acoustic, pedal and lap steel – and is beautifully supplemented by Ford Pier’s horn arrangements and the occasional gorgeous Jesse Zubot string part. Nilsen’s music has always been sweetly appealing and emotionally engaging, but this time, she sounds like she believes it herself.
-Rachel Sanders, Exclaim! Magazine
Great Aunt Ida’s third album suggests that pianist/singer Ida Nilsen spent the five years since her last album coming into her own as a musician. Reminiscent of Belle & Sebastian’s fuller late-period material, it’s steady and sure, intimate and honest, with songs that are so damn smartly crafted.
During those five years, Nilsen also got married, relocated from Vancouver to Toronto and found her footing through the Tranzac music community. Her lyrics focus largely on love and relationships, though often not their cheeriest aspects. Second song Lonely is especially keenly observed – biting, even, though not mean – and includes a great glam-rocky guitar solo that lasts for just a few brief bars.
Restraint is Nilsen’s specialty. At least a dozen musicians contribute, with bits of French horn, slide guitar, saxophone and tom-heavy drumming filling up the spaces between her piano lines and delicate, close-miked vocals but never, ever distracting from what’s at the heart of the songs.
-Carla Gillis, Now Magazine
“Great Aunt Ida is back with a new album of relaxed and natural talent.This is what excites me. This is what pop music is all about.”
— CBC Radio 3 (Grant Lawrence)
Ida sounds more like a shy 10-year-old girl whispering secrets into the microphone than my great aunt – but this vocal innocence creates an interesting contrast with her mature sound and literary lyrics. With a Radiohead-esque melodic sense and a Rachel-esque darkness, B.C. pianist Ida Nilsen creates lovely little indie-pop poems to sooth crooked hearts. Coded musings on love and snippets of strange friendships are wrapped in angular chords and built up by her fabulous rhythm section, bassist Scott Malin and drummer Barry Mirochnick, who has also played with Neko Case and Christine Fellows. She oversees some atmospheric horn and string arrangements and welcomes friends Jesse Zubot, Ford Pier and Veda Hille. Great Aunt Ida’s Canada Council grant has certainly been put to good use here.
– Mary Beth Carty – Penguin Eggs Winter 2006
How They Fly is a collection of 12 songs, all liminal and mysterious, with moments that alternately transport the listener into a nouvellevague movie and then a border-experience; there is genuine mystery, and melancholy throughout, not to mention that ineffable thing that discerning listeners recognize as grace.
-The Nerve Jan 2007
“…gently awed by her songs’ deliberateness, tenderness and quietude, also by her band’s expert dedication to mood and feeling, all necessary components for the expression of presence in its delightful elusiveness.”
— Zulu Records
While Great Aunt Ida’s debut album, Our Fall, was stunning in its quiet sparseness, How They Fly shows a bolder, more confident side to singer-songwriter Ida Nilsen’s sound. Front and centre are her vocals, almost childlike in their soft sweetness; her lyrics, on the other hand, provide a far darker contrast.
-Georgia Straight Oct 2006
“Great Aunt Ida sounds gorgeous on this well-constructed full-length. Nilsen’s songs are all invested with more hopeful instrumentation and she is often more playful in her wordplay. Great Aunt Ida lulls you into loving her with “How They Fly.”
— Exclaim! Magazine
“fraught with admonishment, yet somehow manages to avoid flat-out misanthropy.”
— Toronto Star
“Ida Nilsen builds on the promise of last year’s debut. All dozen cuts deliver more depth with eachlisten.”
— The Province
“Great Aunt Ida, or singer and pianist Ida Nilsen’s songwriting outlet has mastered the art of emphasizing simplicity over complexity, to create a sound that encompasses both inherently. How They Fly is even more of a succinct masterpiece that should raise Great Aunt Ida’s stature on Canada’s folk meets country map considerably.”
— View Magazine
“a superb second CD, How They Fly …it is Nilsen’s poetic skill that really captivates.”
This is quiet music with presence, plus an involving continuum of stories, of longing, love, curiosity, and rebirth.
– Erasing Clouds October 2006
Like a modern day Joni Mitchell she navigates around her songs with instinct.
– Americana UK Oct 2006
The Georgia Straight June 9-16 2005 -excerpt-
If selfishness results in more CDs like Great Aunt Ida’s debut, Our Fall, it might be in danger of losing its bad reputation. The new disc, all Nilsen originals, except for a Neil Young-style cover of the Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” is a gem, but one that reveals its facets slowly. Against a bed of her sturdy but accomplished piano playing, Nilsen sings lines that scan like diary entries: they’re revealing yet coded, and this, combined with her tendency to drop her voice at key moments, gives them an attractively enigmatic aspect. Even the album’s one uptempo number, “This Macarena” a possible hit single, if radio would only play real music, is anything but straightforward. Does Nilsen switch mid-song from her own narrative voice to that of a bird with a broken wing? It’s hard to say, and she concedes that she likes to keep some aspects of her art shrouded in mystery.
Chart Magazine Review June 21 2005
Another gorgeous quiet-pop secret from Hive Fidelity, Ida Nilsen’s girl/piano combo pulls off a small miracle and sounds nothing like any of the other million girl/piano combos out there. Her talents on the keys create tragic, peppy and angelic sounds. Then there’s her voice. Nilsen can do “sweet” on the pop whimsy of “Macarena” (no, not a cover) but largely sticks to a “don’t drop this voice or you’ll break it” quiet fragility. Add to the mix her band, including trumpet and saw, a Hayden-esque lyrical simplicity and a spot-on girl version of The Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” and it’s a keeper. -David McDougall
Zulu Records Review June 2005
A familiar face around Sugar Refinery closing times, Ida is best known for her work balancing brooding dynamics on the keys and trumpet with The Beans, as well as her daring improvisations in Cunt! This, her first proper solo release, is somewhere between these two points of reference, featuring some gorgeous old time balladry and great performances from her all-star band. A bright debut.
Red Cat Records Review -excerpt-
Ida Nilsen is one of Vancouver’s treasures. Some of you may remember her as one of the co-proprietors of the late, lamented Sugar Refinery. Others might have seen her tickling the ivories for and/or lending ethereal vocals to, such local acts as The Buttless Chaps, Cunt, P:ano and Jerk With A Bomb. In fact, for the last several years, wherever good music is found, you will most likely find Ida. Better still, with Great Aunt Ida, Ms. Nilson has finally stepped to the forefront as the leader of a band. Singing, playing piano and writing songs, Ida is a force to be dealt with. As one might guess, she had no trouble putting together a great band to accompany her. Also along for the ride are trumpet/coronet player J.P. Carter (The Inhabitants), bass player Annie Wilkinson (Thermos) and drummer Barry Mirochnick (Veda Hille). Together they will break your heart. -Andrew Pearson
Terminal City article June 9-16 2005 -excerpt-
At the heart of the bands music is Nilsens mellifluous vocals drifting over her intricate, piano-based melodies. Behind the kit, Mirochnick again proves himself an expert in percussive understatement. His deep voice also offers an ideal harmonic counterpoint for Nilsens. Carter lavishes his brass work with a variety of effects that leave the songs washed in rich ambience. Finally, Wilkinson displays a Beekeepers pop savvy with her expressive bass lines. -Curtis Woleschuk
Vancouver Courier June 8-15 2005 article -excerpt-
If you don’t know Ida Nilsen then you probably don’t pay much attention to the local music scene. For the last seven years, the young musician has been one of the busiest in the city, contributing trumpet, accordion and piano to a number of acts, including Kingsway, Beans, Radiogram and another group whose name common decency forbids us from mentioning here. She also worked at and helped run the late, lamented live music hangout the Sugar Refinery for six years and can currently be found tending bar at a little downtown watering-hole known for its cozy stage and toy train set-up.
At the moment, however, Nilsen is coming out from the sidelines to lead her own band, Great Aunt Ida. The group, which includes bassist Annie Wilkinson, drummer Barry Mirochnick and horn player J.P. Carter, has just released Our Fall, a debut of uncommon delicacy centred around Nilsen’s wistful piano and vulnerable vocals. For those who know her mostly as a trumpet or accordion player, hearing Nilsen take centre stage will be pleasantly surprised. -Shawn Conner
SEE Magazine Oct 13 , 2005 article -excerpt-
In another dimension, where the forces of karma and justice are stronger, Nilsen is a 21st Century Carole King and Our Fall is her Tapestry. In that universe, Our Fall is flying off the shelves, and Nilsen can quit her day job to labour exclusively over her next offering in the luxurious privacy of her own West Coast studio. -Christa OKeefe
Monday Magazine Review June 9-16 2005
With a musician’s resume longer than most people’s arms, Vancouver’s Ida Nilsen has made a name for herself not only as a member of experimental blissmeisters Beans, mellow twangsters Radiogram and all-girl improv quintet Cunt, bu also playing guest spots on records by Veda Hille, p:ano, Buttless Chaps and Jerk With a Bomb. It seems appropriate that Nilsen has adopted a familial monkier for her latest project, as Great Aunt Ida certainly makes you feel right at home with her splendidly laid-back, yet perfectly quirky pop. At just under 35 minutes, the 11 songs on Our Fall certainly qualify for the short and sweet category, but Great Aunt Ida accomplishes an even more impressive feat. She redeems the otherwise shudder-inducing title “Macarena” with her own song so sweet that in a perfect world, one listen would forever erase the bad taste left by the mid-90’s dance craze of the same name. I’m already working on a set of dance moves for Ida’s “Macarena.” – Bill Stuart