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Haley Bonar — Last War

Haley Bonar — Last War

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The fifth long-player from the Canadian-born, South Dakota-raised, St. Paul, Minnesota-based singer/songwriter, Last War finds Haley Bonar ditching the relatively stark and plaintive folk stylings of previous outings in favor of a more muscular, indie rock-driven sound that locates the sweet spot between the earthy Northern Americana of Neko Case, the pop acumen of Aimee Mann, and the meaty, cinematic electro-dream pop of Frankie Rose. Written and recorded after a period of personal upheaval, the nine-track Last War is anything but a downer. Sure, Bonar is angry at the chauvinistic music industry ("No Sensitive Man") and the rote encumbrances of adulthood ("Bad Reputation"), but she's also resolute about pairing that ire with pure pop craftsmanship, resulting in a remarkably focused and effortlessly melodic set of songs with incredibly sharp hooks, both figuratively and literally. Opener "Kill the Fun" isn't nearly as punitive as its title would imply. It's a big, bright open-road gem that, like much of the album, draws from the beauty, the boredom, and the brutality of life without favoring one or the other. Justin Vernon (Bon Iver, Volcano Choir) lends his considerable pipes to the overcast "From a Cage" and the equally wistful yet cool-headed and poised closer, "Eat for Free," but it's the intoxicating title cut, a chilly and propulsive midnight no wave anthem with an explosive, densely coiled chorus, that serves as the album's centerpiece. Like Bonar herself, it's edgy without being detached, wounded yet not without purpose, and all sweetness and light in the middle, and it sounds like the beginning of something special.

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