Musical tour de force

Australian newcomer Angie McMahon shows she is a force to be reckoned with on her debut album Salt

Hear tentativeness, vulnerability and anger in Melburnian Angie McMahon's richly nuanced record.
Hear tentativeness, vulnerability and anger in Melburnian Angie McMahon's richly nuanced record.PHOTO: DUALTONE

At first, one does the celebrity arithmetic - Melburnian Angie McMahon comes across as English musician Polly Jean Harvey meets indie rock band Florence and the Machine, blessed with the slow-burning grace of American singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten.

Not to mention how the 20something can rock with the boys - and tell them off at the same time.

There is the sassy kiss-off in the febrile Missing Me, with her throaty proclamation that "I'm tired of being your sweetheart"; and the delicious world-weariness with which she rejects another suitor's advances in the jaunty Slow Mover.

By the time one comes to And I Am A Woman, her latest single and the 10th track on her long-awaited debut album, Salt, it is 100 per cent clear she is her own person.

"You are in my home now/And I am a woman," she enunciates every syllable with a head-turning, soulful rasp that is unmistakably hers.

In a Facebook post last September, she said she wrote the song after a heated conversation with a dinner date, with the idea "that our bodies and the spaces around us are our homes and that everyone deserves to feel safe and respected in theirs".

That streak of independence underscores her thoughtful missives, which often start off calmly, almost controlled, then take off into lacerating rock take-downs.

  • Hear tentativeness, vulnerability and anger in Melburnian Angie McMahon's richly nuanced record.



    Angie McMahon


    4 stars

To that end, the music is kept sparse - an electric guitar, a bass guitar and drums employed sparingly - with space for her fulsome voice to roam and command.

It is a voice to die for, running the gamut of emotions with a sigh, dip or brusque dismissal. You hear, in her richly nuanced utterance, tentativeness, vulnerability and, yes, anger.

Co-producer and bassist Alex O'Gorman knows when to pull back and when to let that velvety purr do its majestic thing.

The song is among a trio of outstanding bare-bones ballads that round up an impressive showcase of bluesy, indie-rock shindigs.

The self-explanatory Mood Song, penned after she had been listening to "a lot of (American indie folk band) Bon Iver", is delivered almost hushed, if not for the way the guitar echoes her blues.

The infinitesimal pauses add tension. How suspenseful is the tug of war evinced in the following couplet: "There's a thing you'd like to say that you won't/ There's a thing I'd like to do that I can't."

Conversely, there is palpable release at the end. Crickets chirping in the background, she whistles, carefree, in the nocturnal confession, If You Call.

The whistling is significant. It is a foil for her casual candour.

"I don't want you to compromise a lot to love me," she sings, strumming an acoustic guitar as the song fades in the embers of the night.

A few seconds of silence pass before tape hiss comes on and she starts to hum the beginning of a threadbare melody.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2019, with the headline 'Musical tour de force'. Subscribe