ep review: eliza hull, dawn
The debut EP from Melbourne’s Eliza Hull is precisely certain of what it is and what it should sound like. Dawn rarely deviates from its intent, but why should it? As a work crafted over three years from an artist new to solo musicianship, it’s a strong message. A love note of sorts; to tenderness, to yearning and to romantic melancholy.
Dawn opens with the stunning ‘Don’t Know It Yet’ – a track that could sit quite comfortably alongside the best of Madonna’s compositionally rich, gothic-chanteuse collaborations with William Orbit. The first thing that hits the listener is its glorious reverb-drenched mix – everything from the vocals to the glitchy, skittering percussion sounds like it was recorded in a large, empty auditorium. It’s unsurprising; elements of these songs were tracked not only in home studios and garages, but also in Melbourne’s Northcote Uniting Church.
The fingerprints of Hull’s principal collaborators Jonathan Steer and Leigh Fisher are all over these songs. This is perhaps most notable on lead single ‘Without Words’; a classy trip hop track fusing the theatrical string arrangements of Homogenic-era Björk with the vocal confidence of Lily Allen. Steer and Fisher are responsible for the EP’s production, engineering, programming, string and horn arrangements, guitars and drums. And probably more. Their production on this song is lush, utilising the entire stereo spectrum; aural elements vault in and out of a mix held together with poise and energy by Hull’s vocals.
‘Saturation’, with its subtle yet seemingly complex piano, is utterly sublime. Hull’s voice complements the song’s bed of strings, accordion and saxophone – there’s a clarity and lack of texture to the track’s components. These songs are smooth; nary a jagged edge within earshot.
‘Hold On’ is vocally the most exciting track on the EP, yet also features its most notable moments of vocal frailty. It’s on these occasions that Hull’s voice is at its most mesmeric. The song is a duet with fellow Melbournite Mark Pearl, known on his solo releases as Texture Like Sun. Reminding the listener of Antony Hegarty, his voice (at times gloriously unkempt) works as the perfect foil for Hull’s (fragile and ethereal). This song is ALL about the remarkable performances of its two leads.
EP highlight ‘Falling’ comes late in the piece. Sparse piano and vocals introduce the track; this solemnity is maintained throughout, yet there is a drama to Hull’s delivery that gives this overtly simple song its weight. After one listen I fell in love it. Quite simply, ‘Falling’ is irresistible.
Rounding out the release, ‘Lately’ flirts with percussive dynamism, letting its piano, strings and vocals dance in complex choreographic patterns with its processed drumming. It’s an ideal, uplifting way to end the EP (“Tomorrow is a new day, a new beginning / We have to give it some meaning”).
Dawn does not sound like a solo debut. On the contrary; there is a startling effortlessness to these seven songs which gives the impression that Hull is a seasoned songwriter. Her time in Melbourne-based band Describe Eliza (also with collaborators Steer and Fisher) has served her well. Her experience is reflected in the mature lyrics across the EP, in which love, love lost, the power of new beginnings and even the nature of reality are touched upon with clarity and maturity.
It will be fascinating to follow the decisions Hull makes regarding her artistic direction on future releases. Will she move on from the gentle indie-electro dream pop of Dawn? The EP’s distinctive sound certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome, but one wonders if a subsequent album release in a similar vein might dilute the power exuded by Dawn. It will be difficult for her to follow up such an impressive debut.
Dawn is available as a download and also physically as a beautiful fold-out digipack.