As we draw to the twilight of the year, it seems appropriate to be listening to Vancouver, Canada’s The Abramson Singers, whose music seems to come so naturally from the grey skies over wintery British Columbia. Their new album, Late Riser, is layered with rich vocal harmonies, indie pop and folk songwriting, and the kind of shimmery dissonance that bandleader Leah Abramson learned from years of singing Appalachian music. If this music sounds different, it’s because of Abramson’s eclectic taste in music and her deep ties to Vancouver’s innovative indie roots scene. Like her friends in Vancouver indie roots band The Be Good Tanyas (Samantha Parton guests on Late Riser!), Abramson knows the roots of American music inside and out, but brings a decidedly fresh approach to her music. Inspired by Canadian history as equally as local stories of heartbreak and longing, Abramson writes songs that subvert the folk or pop songwriting structure, blossoming beyond these boundaries into something entirely new.
With a voice that is paradoxically rich and full, but also gossamer thin, Abramson taps into the eerie backbone of a song. It’s an ability she first honed with alt-old-time stringband The Crooked Jades, then as a touring harmony vocalist for well-known Canadian artists, and later developed on her own following a difficult wrist injury. Unable to play her instruments, Abramson sat down with an 8-track recorder and began layering her own voice and creating harmonic structures that echoed a full singing group. This first iteration of The Abramson Singers came from her background as a proud “choir nerd,” and showed that she had an uncanny knack for arranging her songs into Victorian lace superstructures. Now with her new album, Abramson’s brought all her friends to bear on the music. Renowned old-time fiddler Rayna Gellert joins in, as do Canadian roots luminaries like Jesse Zubot and Josh Grange (of kd lang’s band). Aside from the guests, The Abramson Singers are made up of Tyson Naylor – keyboards, Patrick Metzger – bass, Lucien Durey – vox, and Dan Gaucher – drums/percussion.
It’s the songs that stand out as the key to Abramson’s music. Here, the longing and heartbreak of today rub against the tragedies of Canada’s historic past (songs “Red River Valley” and “Marguerite” speak of the Métis people’s tragic leader Louis Riel). Abramson’s soothing voice is as sharp as frozen ice, but just as fragile. This fragility makes for one of the most endearing and intimate indie roots recordings of the year.