Although billed as an EP, with near half an hour’s playing time, this eight song release from Canadian singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Erin Passmore is almost as long as some early/mid 60s albums (and an equal length to an countless number of punk discs). Mixing elements of adult rock/pop and a few jazzier overtones, on her solo debut, the sometime member of Rah Rah presents a slow burner of a disc that has an almost epic feel in places.

The eight tracks cover a full range of sounds, between upbeat rock tunes and more understated vocal led pieces.  The lead track ‘Downtown’ is tough yet very tuneful, placing Passmore neatly into a radio-friendly rock pigeonhole.  Lead guitars add a fair amount of fuzziness to a punchy arrangement over which the vocals are strong and very assured.  In some ways, this is a very accessible entry point into this EP, but Erin Passmore offers other far more interesting musical arrangements and ideas.    With her lead vocal soaring above a selection of instrumental brilliance, ‘Into The Woods’ is one such number.  Beyond those vocals, the drums lay down a laid-back beat, the guitars add a retro twang, undercut by occasional piano and a bottom layer of subtle brass.  It really is a kitchen-sink type arrangement that takes a fair number of spins before you’ve discovered all of its best qualities…but it’s absolutely worth investing time in.

In contrast, ‘Sad Song’ is rather bleak: a drum heartbeat and a feedback drone pave the way for bursts of electric piano, over which Erin offers a personal and rather biting lyric. Chopping between full band sections and moments of sparseness, as her vocal teeters against a spasmodic drum line, this track’s striking nature makes it one of the EP’s choice cuts, even though it could also be considered the release’s most challenging. ‘Fall’ also sounds like it’ll explore Passmore’s softer side at first, as her voice first appears accompanied by a simply struck piano chord.  And then, the tune takes a brilliant and unexpected turn: with the addition of busyish drums and a distorted guitar, it becomes a rather dark and aggressive piece.  While it is musically strong, it’s often the heartfelt lead vocal which makes the track great.  The mismatched nature between music and voice provides an unsettling tone, resulting in something unexpectedly cool. [If you really get into this, then checking out Erin Passmore’s label-mate Rebekah Higgs is also time well spent. While they are not always stylistically that similar, Higgs’s ‘Odd Fellowship’ also occasionally sets out to catch the listener off-guard with a combination of strong vocals and interesting musical arrangements.]

On the similarly introspective (but much smoother) ‘Married’, Passmore really excels.  The sparingly used guitars are atmospheric, allowing a tinkling piano to lead the way on a light-sounding tune.  Passmore’s lead vocal style – moving, as it does, between a low register and (gently) passionate delivery – sounds just lovely, especially on the chorus section where her repeated line of “hold me close, I’m tired darling” emerges from the speakers with an almost lullaby/nursery rhyme quality.  The gentle mood continues through ‘Rock The Boat’, a beautifully arranged track which pitches another very enjoyable lead vocal performance against a gentle choir of backing vocals. While Passmore’s very natural tones sit upfront, the warmth of the whole arrangement shouldn’t be overlooked: gentle jazz drum fills and a strong backing vocal arrangement really flesh out the complete picture.  As Passmore’s lead voice builds to a climax, the piece ends abruptly and unexpectedly.

The title cut aside, the ‘Downtown’ EP often teases the listener by working its magic slowly; but once it’s got you, that’s it.  Between the cinematic soundscapes and Passmore’s natural delivery, it’s a release with plenty of charm.

July 2012