Late Bloomer is the new project from Laurence Hélie, an acclaimed Canadian songwriter who released two french language folk albums before taking a break. Hélie has now come back, helped with smooth production from Warren C. Spicer. Late Bloomer is an apt title for an artist who has been away from music for a number of years but it has been well worth the wait, as this is a charming collection of well-worked songs.
This is a re-start, not a re-invention – Hélie isn’t hiding from her past on this release, but is drawing a line in the sand with her new moniker and expanded musical styles. She’s now singing mostly in English, with the album only having one French song. These three elements show that Mirabelle is about branching out to a wider audience, and this is the first step on that new road.
Late Bloomer is filled with drops, time signature changes and codas that creep up in the mix. A rock band would announce these shifts with explosive dynamic changes, but Mirabelle’s subtlety allows these elements to shift into the soundscape unnoticed, and gradually build until you realise the tempo changed around a minute ago. This kind of style is satisfying, and ensures repeated spins will still sound fresh.
Rose White is one of the least challenging songs, its fuzzy trip-hop beats back up Hélie’s strong, simple vocals, for a softened, comforting sound. It threatens to drift out of focus before the bassline comes back to guide everything over the finish line. Phenomene is an upbeat, alt-pop Francophone track, which gives a lyrical break along with a pleasant crescendo in the choruses.
More slowed-up, trippy beats come on Magic Spell. This intricate piece is a sweet interplay of minor key guitar and twinkling piano that transition into the choruses, keeping the tension going as Hélie hypnotically murmurs “Look at all the beauty I’ve found.” The outro makes the song, and keeps things interesting right to the end. It never gets resolved, but this is intentional and adds to the experience.
It’s not all downtempo – Teenage Dreams is the bounciest song on Late Bloomer, bursting through with an indie guitar line of unorthodox chords, before subverting the common motif of the album with a slowed chorus. These songs are the stand-outs, ranging over the full breadth of styles on this record.
It’s hard to categorise the overarching style of this album but Hélie’s voice has matured through years of practice. She expresses a breathy, relaxed style that’s in keeping with some of the leading modern female voices, think Romy Madley Croft or Lana Del Ray), that sits on top of elements of rock, folk, jazz-pop, electronica, and more than a sprinkling of experimental styles. The ambient, wandering sounds make for a niche style. It’s modern but with the benefit of years of songwriting experience. Mirabelle is a mixture of old and new, and Late Bloomer is the initial foray into this new world for Hélie. It’s well worth a listen on an early summer’s night.