Big Bad Good
My Bubba = Gregory and the Hawk + Angus & Julia Stone
With a very minimalist approach to both vocals and instrumentation, I initially thought Icelandic/Swedish duo My Bubba was actually just one person. Both Guðbjörg Tómasdóttir (known as Bubba) and My Larsdotter have effortlessly breezy voices, but the fact that they sound so similar gives Big Bad Good a unity that is melodic and playful at the same time. The imperfect acoustic guitar, occasional lap harp and simple lyrics give a rustic sound to Big Bad Good, though the album goes a lot deeper once you get past the first listen.
The title track is a seemingly cheery song sung in round, with simplistic lyrics that gradually evolve into family stories against a subdued percussion track, highlighting the harmony and melody of the voices. On the surface, it is a catchy song showcasing Tómasdóttir and Larsdotter’s voices, but as the jumbled family stories mesh and interweave, there are hints of secret lyrics that emerge. “My father / Fixes broken hearts / But you can’t fix mine” is easy to miss in the first listen, but it gives an extra emotive dimension to the seemingly folksy charm of Big Bad Good.
In a similar way, “Ghost Sweat” seems like a more positive song with a dainty melody suspended over a subdued acoustic guitar. Offbeat church bells in the background toward the end of the song add to the whimsical, almost improvisational feel to the piece, yet there is a hint of sadness in the lyrics: “The ghost has left my body / I can breathe again” sounds beautiful, yet it is slightly disarming at the same time.
The storytelling element of Big Bad Good is certainly strong, amplified by the fact that the instrumentation is quiet and minimal, lending the sole focus to the vocals. There is a strong theme of familial relationships and the strain they can cause. “Sister,” a short interlude track, features a hazy voice through what sounds like a telephone recording: “Little sister of mine / If I could see you again.” The voice seems to break through the melody as if through tears, adding to the dark, sorrowful power of the piece. The twangs and guitar influxes in “Letter” lend to the unhinged quality of the lyrics, which possibly allude to mariticide and divorce with the solemn statement, “The letter is in the mailbox.” It’s the kind of songwriting structure that is more poetic than choral, and each song has a free form to it, not following any particular structure lyrically nor instrumentally.
The fact that there is minimal instrumentation in each song shows the vocal prowess of both Tómasdóttir and Larsdotter and how their voices perfectly mimic each other. Personally, it is kind of confusing because you can’t tell the voices apart, but there is a certain charm to the simplicity of their duets. The choice to focus on the voice and lyrics was definitely beneficial for My Bubba, as the lyrics really tell a story in each song, ranging from morose to cheerful all in the same album. On a very basic level, Big Bad Good is a quiet but pleasing album. Once you dig deeper, you really feel the full brevity of its poetry. –Ali Shimkus