More optimistic and accessible than her major label debut, Heather Nova’s Siren matches thick, pulsating percussion, shimmery guitars, and lush string arrangements with the singer-songwriter’s refreshingly honest lyrics (“So keep me in your bed all day” goes the hook of the album’s opening track, “London Rain”) and fluid soprano (her voice quivers elegantly on the wispy pop ballad “Paper Cup,” while it soars high above the clashing guitars and strings of “Winterblue”). She plays the role of “siren” on “Make You Mine,” her high-pitched wails beckoning for her object(s) of desire beneath the track’s crunchy guitars and measured beat.
Still, Nova’s sugary melodies and bittersweet lyrics are often wrapped in anguish. Siren is deceptively simple—straightforward chord progressions, infectious pop hooks—but it’s thematically rich, each song subtly or directly interconnected. Much of the album revolves around the singer’s escape from an abusive relationship and her subsequent freedom: She struggles in vain to save her lover on “Heart and Shoulder” but is left emotionally battered, bruised, and untrusting of both her partner and herself on “Blood of Me”: “I don’t believe you when you hold me…I don’t believe you when you fuck me,” she whispers tentatively. “Ruby Red,” “I’m Alive,” and “Avalanche” find Nova inspired to live again, abandoning her safety nets and finally unearthing the courage to leave without ever once sounding overly cliché, and she is ultimately reborn with the profoundly sad yet hopeful “What A Feeling.” Nova’s newfound joy and rediscovery of life, love, and, above all, herself is palpable: “The laughter that was dead is coming,” she nearly weeps in disbelief.
With tracks like “Valley of Sound,” an ode to the connection between artist and listener, and the tabla-infused “Not Only Human,” it’s clear Nova lives and breathes her art: “Life is something set to music/I can hear it when I’m sad.” Fortunately for us, her sadness has provided an arresting, deeply felt soundtrack for life.