As a vehicle for pianist and songwriter, Ida Nilsen, Great Aunt Ida has existed in various shapes and places since 2003, beginning and returning to Vancouver, BC. Influenced by a variety of genres but rooted in the popular song, Nilsen's writing has been called “intimate and honest”, “warm and spare,” bordering on misanthropic, and “somehow unlike any other girl/piano combo.” An active member of Vancouver’s music scene in the late 90s and 2000s, Nilsen was also a member of acclaimed “post-rock” group The Beans, alt-country Radiogram, experimental all-improv group Cunt, The Gay, The Buttless Chaps, and the Toronto-based Violet Archers. Great Aunt Ida released three albums between 2005 and 2011: “Our Fall” (2005 Hive-fi), “How They Fly” (2006 Northern Electric), and “Nuclearize Me” (2011 Zunior). A fourth album, “Unsayable,” will be released on September 7th 2021, marking a return to the music world after a long absence.
The subject matter of Unsayable is not light – the songs’ characters struggle with betrayal, mental health, troubling relationships, the meaning of love, and the minefield zone between emotion and action. Written over a period of six years, the album’s nine songs follow Nilsen from a period of living in Detroit back to a Vancouver that, instead of being comfortably familiar, had become strange in her absence. Musically, the album explores this darkness with minimal melodrama; the rhythm section of Nilsen, on piano and Wurlitzer, with Vancouver veterans Mark Haney, on double bass, and Barry Mirochnick, on drums, settles into easy, laidback pockets that sometimes hint at falling apart but never do. Recorded at Afterlife, the old Mushroom Studios, with engineer John Raham, the sound is fleshed out with guitar parts by Jonathan Anderson and Dan Goldman, trumpet and effects by JP Carter, strings by Meredith Bates and Sarah Kwok, woodwinds by Krystal Morrison and Jennifer Vance, and background vocals by Mirochnick and Patsy Klein, players that come from roots, folk, improvised jazz, new music, and classical backgrounds.