Band of the Day

2011.12.29

Haley Bonar

Rock country hybrid driven by sweetly breathy vocals, and just enough twang
The light in your eyes fell away like loose change and I tried to figure out who you were at all.
lyrics from Candy Machine Gun

Haley Bonar (rhymes with Daily Honor) is an alt-country singer-songwriter from Minneapolis, Minnesota who has been actively recording since 1999, when she was a senior in high school. Bonar, who grew up writing music and leading theatric games with her siblings in the Black Hills of South Dakota, broke out as a musician after moving to Duluth Minnesota, where she was discovered by Alan Sparhawk of the indie group Low during one of her local performances. From there, Bonar was invited to open for Low on tour, and was subsequently signed by Sparhawk's label Chairkicker's Union Records. With her breathy vocals and catchy alt-country hooks, Bonar has released three LPs and three EPs since her 2002 self-released demo. Her most recent album, 2011's Golder was self-released on April 19, 2011. Aside from her solo work, Bonar sings and plays synth in a punk/new wave side project called Gramma's Boyfriend.

A lot of people say they hate country. But the truth is, add some pedal steel guitar to "New Slang" by the Shins, tweak the rhythm a bit on most Iron and Wine tracks (or pretty much any Bob Dylan song) and you've got country. Its shuffling, “I'm having a great time stewing in my misery” soul is at the heart of many of the greatest rock songs. Haley Bonar has successfully taken advantage of this fact, sneaking country's best elements onto a rock and folk canvas. Bonar is a 28-year-old native of South Dakota currently living in Minneapolis, though her 2011 album Goldener is the result of a “lonely year spent in Portland Oregon.” Her music is amazingly open, pulling in dark swathes of guitar and bright orchestration in a rock/folk/country combination. But ultimately, the songs are a support system for her breathy, wonderfully expressive vocals. Though these rootsy compositions could have been written anytime in the last few decades, they have strong 90s vibes to them. Not to say they're oppressively angsty by any stretch, but this is music that would fit nicely into your record collection next to Mazzy Star and Elliott Smith. “Candy Machine Gun” begins with a primal, wordless call and drives forward powered by Bonar's smoky twang of a voice. Her music is clearly influenced by the landscapes she's experienced, dark clouds of electric guitar roll across the song as she sings “the rain so hard as we drove across the state.” The songs on Goldener have a sense of wide open spaces like the sage brush country east of Portland or the Black Hills of the Dakotas where Bonar grew up. “Anyway, Rattlesnake” shows strong Neil Young influences, confidently riding the line between country and rock. Bonar's vocals ricochet from deep sighs to Neko Case-like twang, soaring high above the guitars and drums. Although Bonar's take on roots music isn't groundbreaking, one of the great things about the style is that a great songwriter, with an interesting voice and knack for the right instrumentation, can make it sound fresh and inspiring.