Julie Doiron may be known as a folk singer, but she has been subtly hard to pin down on record. Though her recent work with Mount Eerie on Lost Wisdom and her most recent album, I Woke Myself Up, were mostly filled with threadbare folk songs, she isn’t quite that easy to pigeonhole. Her 2004 album, Goodnight Nobody, was another bittersweet folk record, but its songs were much more expansive and lush than Doiron is usually given credit for being.
So the departures she makes on I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day aren’t unprecedented. This isn’t some crazy move off the beaten path, although her changes in sound probably aren’t as subtle as they’ve been in the past. After quiet opener "The Life of Dreams," Doiron gives us "Spill Yer Lungs." Backed by Fred Squire on drums and Rick White on bass, the song starts off with a thundering psych-rock guitar riff. The drums rumble along behind the noodling hooks, and suddenly Doiron is a rock star. The song does settle into verses that rely more on beautiful melodies than muscle, but there is a still a gloomy rock mood that settles over the song.
And "Spill Yer Lungs" doesn’t stand alone on the record. The cloud-cover feel of the buzzing guitars on "Heavy Snow" mines similar stony sounds, and the crunchy power-pop of "Consolation Prize" speeds up their heavy sound into a hook-filled burst. But the real surprise is in how well these songs work. Doiron doesn’t just try these new sounds, she knocks them out of the park. With Squire and White, she also achieves her most full-band sound to date. Even on more folk-based stuff like "Borrowed Minivans" and the echo-drenched balladry of "Blue," the guys fill out Doiron’s songs beautifully, giving them a texture they’ve never quite achieved before.
There are still moments with Doiron on her own, but they feel even more like well-placed choices on the record with these other, bigger tracks. Ditties like "The Life of Dreams" and "Nice to Come Home" make Doiron sound doe-eyed and charming. She is still a master of the everyday detail, casting light on pieces of clothing shed when we walk in the door, or the feel of a favorite chair, or an unfunny joke shared between lovers. Doiron’s romantic attention to the little things is still, despite all these new sounds, what carries her songs, and what makes this album truly surprising and arresting. The heavy guitars and thick, gut-humming bass do show us the emotions under these seemingly simple scenes, but they are still doing what the pregnant silences of I Woke Myself Up or the lilting guitars of Goodnight Nobody did.
In the end, it’s Doiron herself that completes these songs. For all its adventurous nature, I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day isn’t the sound of her starting fresh, it’s the sound of her adding another piece to a solid discography. Even if the piece doesn’t fit perfectly.