Clearly, people, some songs must be listened to for more than 30 seconds. If, for instance, you give “Romance” only a half-minute or so, you might hear it as a sing-songy sort of DIY keyboard pop, veering maybe (maybe) towards the precious. Fortunately for you you have decided to give it more than 30 seconds. Bass and guitar have made minor appearances by 40 seconds; that helps. The drum kicks in around 48 seconds and that both stabilizes and reorients the song. Now we’re kind of bounding in an open space, freed from the potentially claustrophobic feeling of the opening section. Even though melodically the song has merely repeated its verse, everything feels different. What sounded nearly cloying with just the keyboard (check out 0:33 to 0:39, specifically) sounds engaging with the drum and the guitar added (compare now 1:04 to 1:10).
And Ida Nilsen is just yet getting started. We finally arrive at the chorus at 1:20, and its half-time, upward-yearning melody, with the gentle male backing vocal, is just…well, wow. I didn’t see it coming, this is nothing the first 30 seconds telegraphed, and yet it makes perfect sense, and she’s got me now for good. And if that weren’t enough, she throws in a kind of chorus coda there at 1:50, another lovely and unanticipated turn of events. Then: we get horns, and a wonderful array of them. Someone thought this out quite carefully, which horn is doing what where, and after a brief keyboard solo (did the horns already go away?), the horns come back (nope!), in satisfying conversation with both the melody and one another.
Through it all, Nilsen maintains an even-keeled presence. In the muted opening—which in retrospect now sounds rather fetchingly Carole King-ish; not cloying at all, in fact—her voice has a bit of an unaffected wobble, giving her the air of Laura Veirs’ small-town cousin. But as the song escalates into its full power, so does Nilsen’s vocal presence, which without really changing acquires something of the plainspoken, breathy authority of Suzanne Vega. Not sure how she does that either.
“Romance” is from the album Nuclearize Me, the third Great Aunt Ida album, but the first since Nilsen moved from Vancouver to Toronto, and the first in which she is operating without a defined band around her. The album arrives in early December on the Zunior label. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.