Reviewed by: Max Miller
With a solo music career spanning more than a decade, features on an Andrew Bird album and a spot as vocalist for garage-glam weirdos Gramma’s Boyfriend, it’s a wonder Haley Bonar isn’t more of a household name among indie aficionados. Her sixth album, Impossible Dream, deals with a lot of heavy themes, including “[Bonar’s] parents, …homosexuality, … loss of youth, teenage parenthood, the lines of social disorder for women [and] the terror of jealousy and suspicion.” But you might not realize all this on a first listen, as Impossible Dream is, foremost, an opulently lush pop record.
Opener “Hometown” sets the mood for the album with its dreamy chorus of “hometown goes wherever you go.” This sense of lost groundedness may be the nexus for the themes of Impossible Dream; being an adult means accepting that there’s always another rug that can be pulled out from under your feet. Impossible Dream is nothing if not an adult record. Prompted by parental turmoil, “Your Mom Is Right” begs the question, “Where you gonna’ go when you’ve done wrong?” The song’s bouncy rhythm belies its emotional core.
Single “I Can Change” finds Bonar continuing to pick at her own proverbial scabs, as she sings, “I could be so happy if I let myself be happy, but I’m too busy behaving for a crowd.” On the rocking “Called You Queen,” she turns her frustration outward on a homophobe, “living in the kind of world where boys can only kiss girls.” Impossible Dream closes with “Blue Diamonds Fall,” its shortest song. This spring-footed number ends the record on a more triumphant note, as Bonar sings, “Our future tastes so bright that our teeth are tinted white.”
The closest analog to Impossible Dream I can find is Sharon Van Etten’s powerful Are We There from 2014. Like Bonar, Van Etten framed turbulent emotions with gripping melodies and beautifully arranged songs, inviting the listener to let their guard down before hitting them with a tidal wave of feels. And yet something in the music, eternally lustrous and upbeat, maintains a sense of optimism. Impossible Dream doesn’t seek to wallow in its own sadness. Instead, it’s as if Bonar knew that putting down these feelings on record would exorcise them completely. When she tells herself she can change, there’s still fear and doubt in her mind. But you can’t help feeling she’s convinced you — and hopefully herself, too — that she’s right.