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ISSUE 121 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/7/2007

Haley Bonar perfects her sound

By David Henke
Variety Editor

Friday, December 7, 2007

Music from an artist like Haley Bonar (pronounced "bonner") is a testament to how good the Minneapolis indie scene can be. Sparse and heartfelt, it's no accident that Bonar's latest album, Lure the Fox, is racking up positive reviews and lots of recognition from the local media. In 2006, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Pulse magazine named Lure the Fox one of the best albums of last year, while City Pages recognized Bonar as the artist of the year.

Bonar, who currently resides in St. Paul, will be playing on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 8 p.m. in the Lion's Pause with opener A Night in the Box. St. Olaf is a logical venue for Bonar, since she signed on with St. Olaf 2007 alum Ian Anderson's burgeoning record label, Afternoon Records, in 2006. She recorded Lure the Fox prior to signing on with Anderson, though Anderson and Afternoon Records rereleased the album nationally in October of last year.

The album itself is boiled down - not that it's a bad thing - because Bonar's a master of the old adage, "Less is more." On four of the ten tracks on Lure she is virtually unaccompanied by any sort of rhythm section. For example, on "Us," "Captain, Captain" and "Blue Ridge Mountains," Bonar's beautifully lonely voice wavers over her acoustic guitar or piano, without any additional instrumental parts. The result is a series of stark and circular songs, tinged with remorse.

It's not surprising that Bonar listed Radiohead as one of her influences; her tracks have the same sort of haunting minor-key quality to them. Her lead track from Lure, "Fox and the Hound" sounds similar to "Exit Music (From a Film)" off of Radiohead's album OK Computer.

Yet the parallels end there; Bonar eschews Radiohead's dense guitar ambience in favor of lighter acoustic parts. At times she sounds like a less clean-cut version of Aimee Mann.

All comparisons aside, the level of songcraft and lyricism that Bonar incorporates into her songs is simply lovely. On Lure, Bonar perfected the hushed, intimate sound that she developed in her first album, The Size of Planets, which was released on local legend Alan Sparhawk's label, Chairkicker's Union. Even her more fast-paced, full tracks on Lure, like "Give it Up," retain that characteristic ambience.

Bonar is anticipating her performance at St. Olaf. "The last time I played in the Pause was last year, and we had a really fun show."

This year, she'll be playing with a brand new bassist, Jim Boquist, who joined up with the band a few weeks ago. The last six days have been a whirlwind of practices and fine tuning for Bonar and her band.

Bonar has also been working on her third album. It's tentatively scheduled to be released next March, now that Bonar and her band have finished recording. The album is currently being mixed by Chad Blake.

All the positive media attention that Bonar has received from regional media outlets is helping, too, though she tries to tune it out when she is writing and performing.

"It [the media attention] is always really nice, but that's not the reason why I play music - you have to put a filter on it, and keep it separate," Bonar said.

"If your record's good, and you feel good about it, then that's all that should really matter."

Bonar's opening act, A Night in the Box, is a bluegrass/rock get-up with some serious foot-stomping power. A Night in the Box, based out of Minneapolis, is also signed with Anderson's Afternoon Records. The band really does defy description; songs of their 2006 album, The Hustle, The Prayer, The Thief, is a mish-mash of "O Brother, Where Art Thou" bluegrass and White Stripe-style garage rock.

Despite its genre-defying sound, A Night in the Box has a certain degree of polished charm. For a band that got together in the spring of 2006, it's clear that they've been working hard to develop their talent.

Together, A Night in the Box and Haley Bonar should put together a pretty darn good show.

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