Review :: Adalita
April 22nd 2011
You already know Adalita Srsen, of course. Part Nick Cave, part PJ Harvey, part Tex Perkins, all rock and roll. Magic Dirt, the band she founded with Dean Turner, Daniel Herring and Adam Robertson, have been a staple of Australian music for close to twenty years. Their 90s output was like Velvet Underground or Sonic Youth at their most chaotic – an early single, ‘Amoxycillan’, famously ended with ten minutes’ worth of feedback – but with the Noughties came an increasingly slick, sophisticated sound that caused great consternation among their fans. Happily, though, since 2005’s Snow White they have managed to combine both their old and their new styles with considerable success.
Now, though, Srsen has stepped out on her own with her self-titled debut album. She has been quoted as saying that she began the album process in the middle of 2009, and that her former partner Turner was a major force in convincing her that there were aspects of her songwriting that needed to be brought out, outside of the context of Magic Dirt. Not long after this process began Turner succumbed to the cancer he had been fighting for close to a decade, and unsurprisingly his death casts a long shadow over the album.
It is a tremendously dark record, although that is as much to do with the sonic landscape as with the subject matter. Slow-burning guitars blaze away like fires in the night, while Srsen’s dark, rich voice is pushed front and centre with great effect. It’s not so much the opposite of Magic Dirt as it is the most basic elements of that same style. Like Magic Dirt, this is confronting music that forces you to react to it, while occasionally giving you some respite with a memorable chorus or catchy tune. And like Magic Dirt, there is a similar brattish, ass-kicking energy to tracks like “Goin’ Down” or “Jewel Thief”, which is obviously inherent in Srsen’s songwriting style and her general inclinations as an artist.
Yet it is the quieter songs that really grab your attention, pitching you headlong in to the darkness at the album’s core where we, like Srsen herself, are haunted by Dean Thomas’ presence. Or his absence. “Hot Air”, is soaked in longing, and it ends with nearly three minutes of Srsen’s one lone guitar scuzzing and droning away in the darkness, reminding me of nothing so much as the desperate yearning of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain”.
Perhaps the centrepiece of this album, though, is “Perfection”. The conception of “perfection” has a long history, and at its most basic level is to do with completion, with wholeness, with objects fulfilling their natural condition. But it has spiritual connections, too – both Buddhism and Christianity have some concept of “perfection” being the natural state of the human soul, whether that state be oneness with Christ or a “pure, timeless awareness” known in Buddhism as dzogchen, ‘The Great Perfection’. As a metaphor for death it is a beautiful concept – the idea that your loved one does not die, but rather return to the natural state of the human soul.
And as Srsen strums her guitar one note at a time the song worms its way into your soul. It’s such a tremendously affecting performance that you don’t even notice the slightly clumsy lyrics. And when the world’s loneliest violin joins in on the final chorus, and as Srsen’s voice is multi-tracked to create her own ghostly choir,