Out 25th August, Reservoir is the long-awaited debut album from Australian singer/songwriter Gordi. It combines painstaking production with painful, punch-you-in-the-guts lyrics.
The 11 tracks on Reservoir are fragmentary; a fact which is partly due to the way they were written; in snatched moments while Sophie Payten (aka Gordi) finished a medicine degree and in between touring commitments. But disunity is also the album’s unifying theme. It is a stained-glass window made up of the by-products of breakdowns and breakups, through which we can view parts (but not all) of Gordi’s world.
The first track on the album is the last one she wrote. ‘Long Away’ features contralto vocals layered on top of one another and the gradual growth of electronic storm clouds which build up before bursting at the 3:30 mark. Here her rhetoric is rhetorical questions; (“Can you hear my voice in your bones again? Can you be with me like you were back then?”) which swirl like the electronica around them, but buried (below the track’s key) is the track’s key; the inescapable ticking clock representing the inevitability of time. It is a trick she returns to with added ambiguity on ‘I’m Done’ with a ‘click’ that could be a camera shutter, fingers or a clock, hidden under the mists of the mix, likewise there is the breathy ‘1,2,3’ chant which runs throughout ‘Heaven I Know’.
Gordi’s craft is one that she has refining since her childhood in rural Australia. She began playing guitar at 12 and soon realised the importance of writing from experience. The source of much of the loss felt on Reservoir comes from one of her closest friends moving to New York last. “I was absolutely devastated”, she explains, “we stopped calling each other and we slowly grew apart. I was struck by the tragedy and simplicity of it and how it happens to everybody”. This is one of the album’s great strengths; despite the experimentation it always returns to emotions we all have dealt with – loss, grief and the need or desire (but inability to) move on. Experience, specifically of her depression, is also the source of the album’s title, as she puts it:
“The name Reservoir, it’s that thing that you can’t describe, that space that anxious people would probably live their life in. It’s actually an expression my friend and I use. If I’m really down one day, I’ll say, ‘Oh I’m a bit in the reservoir today’. You’re mulling everything over, and you’re sitting in all these thoughts and feelings.”
Music is her medicine, her way out of ‘the reservoir’, and therefore even at its most mournful we can take some comfort from the cathartic nature of the songs on album. Music as a prescription for her depression can be seen in the practical lyrics describing how to deal with grief. In ‘I’m Done’ Gordi accepts her loss with the line; “It feels good to say I’m over you / and mean it more and more each time”.
Sometimes in folktronica, the electronic instrumentation can distract from folk lyricism, but Gordi is confident enough to end the experimentation in favour of emotions. In ‘The Bitter End’ (a song written in response to the friend moving to New York) the squeak of the samples used in previous tracks become the squeak of fingers on a fretboard. Here, Gordi describes what to many is indescribable: the pain of moving on, as she sings (“Oh I can’t tell you a story, there’s nothing more to say/We’ll just move on, like the others, who smell of yesterday”). But this, as with the other tracks, is just one shard of a shattered song; the lyrical folk fades to electronic synths and strings, before returning with warm acoustic guitars.
Gordi makes it clear that she “writes to fill (her) own need”, but that isn’t to say that the songs don’t speak out from your speakers. This is a long awaited (and heavily produced) album, with Tim Anderson (Solange), Ben McCarthy, Ali Chant (Perfume Genius, PJ Harvey), Alex Somers (Sigur Ros) and Gordi herself all working on it. At times production is stripped back, but at others it stops just short of being overblown, such as on ‘Heaven I Know’ which grows to include trumpets, percussion, pianos and electronic explosions which would sound more at home on Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’. Elements of pop production can also be seen on the chorus of ‘All the Light’ and the single ‘Can We Work it Out’; a wry subversion of ‘the Beatles’’ famous track, with the fantastic lyric “forgetting you is like ignoring the weather”. All of these tracks have an anthemic quality, but they are anthems for doomed love and their switch from simple to symphonic and back again reflects the fact that the emotions experienced are ordinary but extraordinarily intense.
Reservoir is an album about life’s difficulties; it is a difficult debut to hear and a difficult debut to review. There can be no doubt about its greatness but the reason for that greatness is based on a series of contradictions. This album inhabits a space somewhere between emotions and electronics, where songs are fragments of feelings, spliced together with strings and synths and we feel both a distance and closeness to a woman we have never met. Reservoir is not for the faint hearted; Gordi opens the floodgates and only just manages to stay afloat herself, but listening to it, will get you thinking about it and thinking about it; will make you listen again.
Reservoir is out 25th August via Jagjaguwar
You can catch Gordi on 6th November at the Omeara, London