Newfoundland singer-songwriter Ian Foster has had a parallel career in the film world for the last few years. After composing for films, he took an interest in the nuts and bolts of that art as well and has added director and screenwriter to his resume. His Keystone, from 2016, was named one of the top ten short films of the year by the Calgary International Film Festival. In the past, his album projects have remained separate from the film work, but that's all changed with the new Close To The Bone, both a short film and an album of original songs.
It developed from a period when Foster was unhappy with the direction of his songwriting, and instead started working on an idea that could be told in both film and song. The result is a 22-minute film that explores identity and big changes that can happen to people along life's journey. It's partially inspired by a story his mother told him from her earlier days. The film shows a family over several years, at first in good times, and then through a long struggle as the mother becomes an invalid, the father turns to drink, and the daughter is left to care for both as they all become isolated in their new reality. Without dialogue, the story is told through acting, dance, mood, a few subtitles, and Foster's songs.
The accompanying album stands alone as a song cycle, the 12 songs extended to full length. It sees Foster moving into a different style of narrative than he's used in his past work, mostly modern folk and storytelling. You can feel the mood of the film, the journey of its characters, and the universality of life's struggles as we move on. Foster has incorporated the atmospheric and evocative style he's learned in film composing, joining it with his already-skillful songcraft. It's a more moody and modern sound than he's had before, giving the feeling of floating outside and examining the people in the story. Like we're watching a movie, in fact.
As an album, it's a refreshing jump for Foster, different and surprising. The song "Middle Distance," for instance, feels more like a catchy Hey Rosetta track than anything you'd find on his previous albums. The use of other vocalists on some tracks, duets or leads, helps emphasize the scope of the project, as a larger story than each song. Knowing there is a thread helps put the lyrics into more focus and scrutiny, and "Edge of the World," with its day bed and barely-sleeping occupant, is full of visuals and memories that leap out. While it stands alone as a listening experience, I'd search out both the film and album for the full effect. Foster has succeeded in blending his parallel careers, with the music still standing strongly on its own.