Vashti Bunyan was born in the wrong era. Her debut album, Just Another Diamond Day was released in 1970 and it flopped terribly. Over the next 30 years, however, it acquired enough of a cult following to warrant a re-release in 2000 and was suddenly hailed as a nearly-lost classic. Listening to it today, it seems to slot neatly beside the likes of Joanna Newsom, Fleet Foxes, Devendra Banhart and Beth Orton. It really is a breathtaking record assembled with delicate whimsy and genuine innocence. Her third studio album, Heartleap, is somewhat flat in comparison.
The album opens with 'Across the Water', which nicely introduces Bunyan's angelic acoustic twangs and a voice almost painfully soft. Bunyan sings with a slight vibrato that, without spoiling the pitch, conveys her deep-felt emotion. However, this quavering fragility is featured heavily throughout and it may leave your ears craving a little more vocal sustenance.
Tonally, 'Holy Smoke' feels very similar to 'Across the Water', although lyrically it is far more nuanced. This is the first of a number of songs on the album that demonstrate what a fascinating and gifted lyricist Bunyan can be. In a similar vein, 'Jellyfish' features mosaic-like production that I wanted to hear more of from the record. The track culminates in choral echoes before a finger-picked reprise which proves to be one of the more memorable moments on the album. 'Here' is also a somnambulatory little number that is characterised by its notable use of the dulcitone, which breathes ethereal vibes in to the opening bars of the track.
Tracks like 'Shell', however seem to hold Heartleap back. Sonically it's mundane and lyrically it feels somewhat clichéd, which is disappointing when you compare it to 'Mother' or 'The Boy', both of which feature lyrics that are timelessly poetic and flirt quite seriously with profundities. By the latter point of the album, it becomes all too apparent that the production on Heartleap just doesn't have the same levels of creativity or intricacy as Bunyan's revered debut.
Heartleap is a perfectly palatable record but it will fail to confidently withstand the decades like her debut. Bluntly put, Heartleap is far too monochromatic. If Vashti Bunyan's wafer-thin vocals and one-dimensional dream folk melodies do it for you, then you'll be sold. Unfortunately for most, this album’s expiry date will be looming near.
Words: Alistair J. Gardiner