Late Riser, the 2013 sophomore album from Vancouver's Abramson Singers, begins with a shimmer and ends with a singalong.
From its first glittering notes on the organ-drenched opening track teaser “Factory Reprise,” Late Riser promises an approach to music that does not quite fit into the standard indie pop mould. And when the beautifully swirling and intricately layered “Liftoff Canon” follows in a burst of breathy a cappella, that promise is gloriously fulfilled. “Liftoff Canon” is a morning hymnal of layered harmony, so joyous and playful that it is tempting to keep hitting repeat.
The Abramson Singers – “Liftoff Canon”
It is clear that Leah Abramson, who wrote all the songs on Late Riser (and who has a side-gig teaching song-writing at the University of British Columbia), loves to play with vocals. With a voice that morphs from a single silver thread to a full-bodied richness, Abramson pushes the boundaries of musical orthodoxy to uncover the possibilities hidden in the human voice.
Even the more conventional-sounding pop songs on the album, like “Deja Vu” or the breezy “Jack of Diamonds”, surprise with occasional flourishes of vocal playfulness. On the moving “Drowning Man”, retro organ riffs lend a particularly poignant touch.
The Abramson Singers boast a roll-call of Canadian folk music royalty, including musicians from Petunia and the Vipers and Dan Mangan's band, as well as guest appearances by Jesse Zubot, Rayna Gellert, and Sam Parton of the Be Good Tanyas. Together they create a soundscape that moves from vocal playground to sonic territory that could have been ripped straight from your grade seven Canadian history textbook. The lovely English-French hybrid “Marguerite”, for example, and the beautiful subdued “Red River Valley”, with its powerfully restrained ending chorus, both reference Louis Riel. At times delicate, at other times abundant, the natural sweetness of Leah Abramson's voice weaves an ethereal sadness into the weight of history.