It works. Sure, Bonar's ability to be both instantly pretty and infinitely rough is part of the magic that has always made her a memorable artist. Her often haunting vocals are uniquely capable of transforming otherwise ordinary stories into bleakly told folk tales.
In fact, this is why she was discovered at an open mic event in Duluth, Minnesota. Back then, she was only a 19-year-old who had already traded in a one-album teenage recording career to become a full-time college student and part-time waitress. Alan Sparhawk changed all that. One week later, he paired her up with a drummer and a Honda Civic so they could open for Low. And now?
The story has been told, but it doesn't get old.
Nowadays it's nearly impossible to think of Bonar as a young breakout artist, given all the songs that make up her catalog and all miles she has logged on tour. And yet, there is something exceedingly fresh about Last War. It might even be that Bonar has finally reached that place where an artist cares less about what people think and more about the mark they want to make.
Starting with album opener Kill The Fun, Bonar lays down one part charm and another part mystery as everything she has been taking for grated in her relationship starts to wind down. The relationship feels too heavy, coming close to its natural ending. But she wants to wind it up again, and acts on it.
Kill The Fun has all the bookmarks of being a timeless folk-pop tune. The composition is poppy and upbeat while the lyrics are tempered and bleak. They aren't so bleak that she is ever willing to give up on anything, but there is this ever-present sense that something thrilling needs to be done.
She follows this up with No Sensitive Man, a near New Wave throwback that lays out the ideal of a sensitive man as she blows holes in the imagery of it. In the second verse, she writes about the opposite, explicitly stating that if they don't have the fight that doesn't mean she'll make up for it.
Cut mostly from the imagery of a forest fire and its use as a metaphor for a burning relationship, Last War conjures loss that Bonar shows us by soaring over and above the wreckage. There is a tenderness to the track, a mood she attempts to retain in the comparatively lighter Heaven's Made For Two. It doesn't work out nearly as good as one might hope, but the experimental elements save some of it.
From A Cage adds real backbone to the middle of the album. Lyrically, it's the best bit of folk writing on the release. Musically, the composition is simple and the addition of Justin Vernon on backing vocals blends in brilliantly.
Among the last tracks, give the quasi-confessional Bad Reputation a listen for its authenticity and the whispered lament Eat For Free a listen for its painful inevitability. Woke Up In My Future and Can't Believe Our Luck are fine songs too, but fall just short of delivering a composition to carry the lyrics to be essential.
Last War By Haley Bonar Takes Off At 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
Haley Bonar has a dizzying sense of folk pop with punk and rock influences in her writing. What makes this combination so striking is she creates an unparalleled level of intimacy across the entire album. It's bleak, hopeful, and calming all at the same time.
Last War by Haley Bonar can be found on Amazon. You can also pick up the album from iTunes or order the vinyl edition of Last War by Haley Bonar from Barnes & Noble. Visit her website for upcoming show dates and other news on Facebook.