The Best Albums of 2019, #17

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17. Louise Burns, Portraits (Light Organ)

This past decade Louise Burns has steadily established herself as one of the better singer-songwriters in Western Canada. Sadly, when you’re one of the better singer-songwriters in Western Canada, it’s not exactly easy to get the tastemakers in Toronto to notice. It’s not fair that Burns should be tagged with the “underrated” label, but the better she gets, the more folks are bound to notice, and her fourth album Portraits is a huge leap forward. While her previous albums leaned more toward indie rock – not a huge surprise considering she was a member of lovable teen band Lillix – she embraces her pop side on Portraits, and the end result is sublime. The compositions are more personal, more intense, but like the best pop, that melancholy is beautifully underscored by charming hooks and arrangements that give you the feeling she’s smiling through all the tears. The singles “Cry”, “Just Walk Away”, and “Cheers” immerse themselves in ’80s influences as Burns, who possesses a winsome voice that nestles between Belinda Carlisle and Stevie Nicks, sells the bittersweet sentiment with conviction. Like recent records by M83, Carly Rae Jepsen, Bat For Lashes, that neon-lit ’80s sound is very much in vogue right now, and Portraits not only captures that essence exceptionally well, but it’s one of the very best examples of the ’80s renaissance in recent memory. Expect this to be near the top of my 2020 Polaris Music Prize ballot.