Over the last decade, Devon Sproule’s made music that’s a little too weird to truly be folk, slipping into jazz at times and never quite committing to the old-time feel she leans toward. Her latest album I Love You, Go Easy makes classifying her sound even more difficult than it has been. Backed now by Canadian trio The Silt, Sproule gets sparse, experimental music that gives her room to play with her vocals. In that setting, she’s created the album that makes the best use of her voice.
On this album, Sproule’s particular vocal tone stands out. Her voice serves an important sonic function, letting the timbre work for its own mood. It helps that Sproule generally sounds so relaxed; she sacrifices some precision for flexibility, and her idiosyncratic approach creates a specific and unfamiliar sound.
Of course, that wouldn’t matter if she couldn’t actually sing, and her sense of phrasing has improved with this album. On the disc’s title track, Sproule gives her most inventive performance. She not only toys with the melody throughout, she toys with her voice, inducing strain and warble when necessary, giving the titular request changing inflections of vulnerability or urgency or even irritation. It’s not a straightforward song, but it’s Sproule’s delivery that adds layers to the piece. On “If I Can Do This,” Sproule meditates over a flute-led cloud, sounding at times as if she’s about to drift off, yet both the melody and her vocals go to unexpected places. The song provides a sort of rest that you can’t take quite easy, as it always invites new engagement with its twists, even in such leisure.
The Silt show a similar flexibility, moving between instruments and genres as needed. Much of the album could loosely be filed under folk, but that wouldn’t account for the noisy funk (“The Unmarked Animals”) or the country-rock (“Now’s the Time”). At times the disc veers if not into showtune territory, maybe onto a vaudeville stage. The album could have become a scattershot mess. Instead, it coheres around Sproule’s relaxed, almost conversational delivery. The individual pieces stand as facets of a larger mission rather than as separate little forays.
Sproule continues to push farther away from standard roots, but that was never a place she was going to settle into. By joining with a challenging band, she’s advanced her vision (which just does seem like it should have a trombone on hand), but she hasn’t responded with stylistic exercises. Instead, she’s pushed her own skills as a vocalist, drawing more from her jazz side even when singing pop or country. In the process she’s created some of her finest art, even if it frequently sounds too casual for that word to apply.