The spine of much of Angie McMahon’s Salt will surely have been on repeat for many of her early fans for a while now, so are the days of a debut album being a voyage of discovery no more? Signature tunes like ‘Keeping Time’, ‘Slow Mover’, ‘Pasta’ and ‘Missing Me’ certainly established the Australian’s modus operandi and the delicious combination of bluesy vocals, bruising riffs and bewitching lyrics left an indelible mark way before any full-length record arrived on the scene. So after studiously exploring her contemporary songwriting heroes, touring the globe, winning festival awards and performing in some of the most iconic venues in the world, the question is whether the momentum of acclaim that accompanied early EPs and performances is maintained and indeed boosted by an album that already includes many tracks we’re already so familiar with.
The brand-new opener certainly establishes the formula for the uninitiated; ‘Play The Game”s brittle guitar and vocals intensify to reveal a torrid emotion that doesn’t relent for much of the record. The beautifully devastating ‘Soon’ tries, initially demonstrating a more melodic tenderness, before the emotionally stinging narrative breaks in heartbreaking fashion, applied like salt in a wound, and this is what ultimately, indelibly remains. These new tracks possess a confessional candour that almost makes you feel guilty for prying in such personal affairs, and we’re grateful when the more familiar singles return to mitigate this starkly poignant opening to the record.
If the earlier releases included here brought to mind Nico and Chrissy Hind vocally, then the next new track ‘Push’ clearly reinforces these comparisons. There’s even a hint of Kate Bush in this dark song which opens with McMahon mournfully stating, “I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings from my face”. This is an album of personal admissions and skeletons come tumbling out of Angie McMahon’s cupboard in jagged outbursts. It’s difficult to say this is an enjoyable experience, but it is an enthralling one. This is music and songwriting at its beguiling best.
There are still surprising sonic developments in the form of ‘Standout’, which possesses cleaner, jazzier tones to compliment the smoky, dulcet vocals. These new songs may be raw emotionally, but they are deliberate and measured in execution and ‘Mood Song’ is a sparse, vulnerable example of this musical confidence which is enhanced by subtle horns and strings at the shattering conclusion.
“I was never very good at communicating with people in my life,” Angie says. “I struggle to be expressive without songs. I have to write down how I feel and sing it out to even understand it.” And this perhaps explains the genesis of latest single, ‘And I Am A Woman’, which emerged shortly after a difficult discussion with a male friend about women feeling safe in public spaces. As a musical moment to define the zeitgeist, Angie nails it before drifting off towards a quiet field of lo-fi acoustics on the gentle closer ‘If You Call’, which still crackles at the mid-way point before floating off into memory, only to subtly materialize a few moments later in a breathy secret track, which eventually melts away into the ether, leaving the listener to reflect on what has passed between us and this darkly elegant Australian performer.
Unlike many artists, there is a reality that we share with Angie. This time though, the voyage of discovery has been hers. Thankfully she speaks for us all on this wonderful, wonderful record.