Amy Millan's second solo outing since 2006's Honey From the Tombs is several steps removed from the bands with which she's most generally associated. There is no melancholy synth pop ala Stars nor is there a Broken Social Scene-like layered atmospheric din. Instead, Milan offers up understated elegance —simple songs with a touch of country and a lot of heart.
Masters of the Burial is the kind of record that makes a heart feel impulsive. The underlying theme of travel and longing — songs titles such as "Run For Me," "Lost Compass" and "Finish Line," as well as lyrical references like "It got worse tonight/Crooked and cursed tonight/Though we're losing time/I'll find my way back to you" from "Low Sail" — make these songs perfect listening for a long, through-the-night road trip to the one you should've never left behind in the first place. Most listeners will recognize "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" as a Death Cab For Cutie song, and there are a handful of covers here mixed in with Millan's own compositions, including the stand-out "Old Perfume," originally recorded by Sarah Harmer. Usually leaning on cover material for a full length is a sign of songwriting weakness or laziness, but the covers included here fit in seamlessly with Millan's originals.
The album cover is a close-up shot of an elephant's trunk, which seems an interesting choice for an album as sparse and undemanding as this one. But the picture and the album title actually make sense considering the subject matter. Right before they die, older elephants are said to make a long, instinctive trek to a particular place where others before them have perished. Here they die physically alone, yet surrounded by the spirits of those that made the trek before them. And Masters of the Burial is an apt companion soundtrack for such a heartbreaking yet romantic notion.
Amy Millan plays Thursday October 15, at the Pike Room, 1 South Saginaw St., Pontiac; 248-858-9333.With Bahamas.
Laura Witkowski reviews music for Metro Times. E-Mail [email protected].