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Manitoba, Canada-born, St. Paul, MN-based singer/guitarist/keyboardist Bonar’s 2014 sixth LP Last War found the songstress changing course from her previous five sparser, folkier albums (my favorite of them: 2003’s comely, country-flecked …The Size of Planets, released when she was only 20!) into a heftier, more hook-filled pop direction. The stylistic shift didn’t go unnoticed; four of Last’s tunes – including its fabulous opener, “Kill the Fun” – each surpassed 200,000 streams on Spotify. But this follow-up is even better, featuring more focused and finely-honed playing. As well, its arrangements are alternately aggressive and atmospheric, thanks to Bonar’s brawny and buoyant backing band of guitarist Jacob Hanson, bassist Jeremy Ylvisaker, and drummer Jeremy Hanson (Jacob’s brother). Best, her dreamy, down-home, Tanya Donelly-esque voice, dotted with a dollop of dolefulness, has never sounded more delectable.
Three of Impossible’s tunes match “Kill the Fun” in in terms of their propulsive, pop-oriented punch. The cogent, coarse-edged “Kismet Kill” is the “killer” this time, fueled by a furious, frolicking drumbeat and filth-encrusted, feedback-drenched guitars. On it, Bonar describes how decisions made during younger years can often determine your destiny in life, declaring “I was impossible when I was beautiful/Now I’m the kismet kill nailed beside you.” Not far behind, the springy, snarling “Called You Queen” depicts a confiding kinship between a woman and a tormented gay man, while the bouncy, uplifting closer “Blue Diamonds Fall” has a Kenny Loggins “Footloose” meets Dum Dum Girls/Best Coast feel. (Note: The attached videos for “Kismet” and “Called” star not Haley, but her younger sister Sydney. And “Called” was directed by her other sister – and drummer Jeremy’s wife – Torey Hanson, who also painted the picture on the album’s inner sleeve. Talk about a talented family!)
As terrific as those three tracks are, it’s the vigorous, vehement “Stupid Face” that staggers the most. Boosted by Hanson’s battering ram drumming, which feels like he’s giving you a bruising beatdown, Bonar’s vindictive vocals get more biting as the song builds, as she boldly admonishes a bullying adversary. The remaining songs are more relaxed and ruminative, yet still robust and rejuvenating. The clomping opener “Hometown” has a breezy, balmy ambiance that recalls a Hawaiian hula dance, while the thumping “I Can Change” surrounds you with sheets of spacious, shimmering guitars. On both, Bonar bemoans her inability to break free from childhood-rooted and self-imposed behaviors, chiding herself on “Change,” “I could be so happy if I let myself be happy/But I’m too busy behaving for a crowd.” Meanwhile, the entrancing “Better Than Me” paints a precise picture of a typical night during her turbulent, troublesome teen years. Her lyrics are so vivid on it, you can visualize the whole cicada-chirping summer scene she chronicles playing out in your head as she sings. With a well-sequenced flow and pristine production, Impossible is start-to-finish fantastic. (gndwire.com, haleybonar.com)