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Carla dal Forno, "The Garden"

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cover imageCarla dal Forno's latest EP is an absolute stunner, distilling her dark pop genius into four perfect gems of dreamy, intimate, haunted, and endearingly ramshackle beauty.  Aside from being four of the finest songs that she has ever recorded (any one of these pieces could be a single), The Garden is most striking for the improbable collision of influences that dal Forno seems to balance effortlessly: in a perverse way, this Australian dreampop chanteuese might be the most perfect and transcendent embodiment of the Blackest Ever Black aesthetic.  While her songs are certainly catchy and propulsive (a inarguable anomaly in that milieu), The Garden's feast of hooks blossoms out of an ultra-DIY/underground backdrop of stark and gritty basslines, primative drum machine clatter, tape hiss, and warped electronics.  At its best, The Garden sounds like a singularly muscular and half-sexy/half-unnerving dreampop album that is too well informed by the darker, uglier undercurrents of post-punk and early industrial to ever lapse into soft-focus navel-gazing.

Blackest Ever Black

The opening "We Shouldn’t Have to Wait" is possibly the most lovely song on the entire EP, yet almost sounds like it could have been recorded on a crappy tape deck in a bleak warehouse in Manchester in 1981.  That collision of beauty, vulnerability, intimacy, and industrial decay seems to be where dal Forno truly thrives.  The essence of the song, of course, is dal Forno’s lovely, bittersweet, and reverb-swathed vocal melody.  A lot of artists in this vein tend to reverb their vocals into abstract soft-focus oblivion, but dal Forno employs just enough to give her confessional and half-seductive/half-wounded vocals a subtle ghostly unreality.  The underlying music is quite striking as well, as the piece is essentially just built from a meaty, raw-sounding, and extremely simple bass line over a starkly clattering and echoing drum machine pattern.  There is also some brooding synth coloration and fluttering electronic weirdness in the periphery, but the actual meat of the piece is about as hyper-minimalist and pared-down as it is possibly to get, as Carla’s voice does absolutely all of the heavy lifting.  It basically feels like she just just plugged in her bass, hit "record," and some kind of occult pop magic happened.  The following "Clusters" is no less haunting and dreamlike, but it is a bit more rhythmic and experimental, as Carla's lyrics are culled from recontextualized text from magazines and the underlying music achieves kind of a weirdly lurching and rolling groove.  Again, "Clusters" would probably still be great if all of the music vanished, but I would not want it to, as dal Forno wrests some wonderfully wobbly, woozy, and strangled-sounding textures out of her synths.  Blackest Ever Black compare "Clusters" to Broadcast, which is not far from the mark, but it feels more like dal Forno is singing over a Broadcast instrumental being played at the wrong speed on partially blown speakers.

"Make Up Talk" is the sort of song that feels composed specifically for me, as it pared down to nothing except a propulsive yet distant-sounding martial drum machine thump, a simple bass groove, and a hallucinatory nimbus of reverberating bird-like chirps and industrial clatter.  There is no clutter, just a handful of great motifs artfully combined in service of an extremely cool song that marches relentlessly forward amidst a hallucinatory storm of low-level lysergic mindfuckery.  The closing Einstürzende Neubauten homage "The Garden" is probably the purest distillation of dal Forno’s skewed and shadowy pop genius of all, however, reducing the backdrop to little more than a two-note bass line and an eerie glass harp-esque melody.  Naturally, it also one of her strongest compositions, as its languorous and lilting vocal melody would have been one of the best songs on the EP even if it were strictly a capella.  Happily, it is not though, as I very much enjoy its swaying and dreamlike waltz feel, as well as the occasional strangled snarl of feedback or woozily rippling synth tone.  That, in essence, illustrates one of my absolute favorite features of The Garden: all four songs are so well-crafted, seductive, and haunting that they would be great if dal Forno just played bass and sang them into a boombox.  No artifice at all was needed to make them work, yet her artful balance of hissing, lo-fi textures and hallucinatory synth and electronic flourishes elevates them to another level altogether.

I have to admit that this EP kind of blindsided me, as it feels like a major creative breakthrough that I did not see coming.  Before The Garden, I viewed dal Forno as a solid artist who occasionally turned out a wonderfully bloodless and deadpan post-punk-influenced gem.  With The Garden, she seems to have become an artist who ONLY writes great songs, dispelling much of the ghostly detachment of her earlier work to make a more direct emotional connection.  Also, it now feels like dal Forno owns her stylistic niche quite definitively–instead of trying to spot her influences, I will now likely be describing other artists (in my head, at least) as "trying very hard to sound like Carla dal Forno" (and presumably failing).  This truly is a perfect EP, as there is not a misstep to be found and each of these four songs has been jostling to be my favorite for weeks.  Every single one is built upon a great hook, carved down to its unadulterated soul, and executed with unerring dynamic, textural, and melodic instincts.  It is a no-brainer to say that this is easily the strongest release of dal Forno's career, but it is probably also safe to say that this is one of the strongest releases of 2017 by anyone, full-stop.

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Last Updated on Saturday, 14 October 2017 19:06  


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