Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Album Review - In Tongues




IN TONGUES
by Ella Hooper (out November 21, 2014)




Ella Hooper is not an unknown music commodity. For many, she's best known as the front for a rock outfit that captured the attention of an entire nation. More recently, we saw her captaining a team on one of the country's most loved music game shows. She's worked tirelessly to promote Australian talent on radio, through her work with the Telstra Road To Discovery initiative and this year, she was the ambassador for the Melbourne Music Bank competition. Ella Hooper is not an unknown music commodity. She's been in the public eye for over a decade and a half, but with the release of her first solo album, In Tongues, we get to meet the artist that is Ella Hooper. There's no band or brother to share the spotlight and vision. This time around, it's Hooper's show and hers alone. Reborn a sleek and sophisticated indie-chanteuse with witchy shades of the likes of Stevie Nicks oozing throughout In Tongues, Hooper is ready to challenge everything we have come to know about her. Ella Hooper is not an unknown music commodity, but her music (much like Hooper herself) has evolved. And it's never sounded better.


"My heart is feeling awful abuse, you aim... pull back the trigger and shoot." The album's opening title track, 'In Tongues', grabs you right from the get go with heavy beating drums, grinding electronic grooves and within seconds, Hooper's seductive tones. It's a commanding entrance, full of the right kind of attitude needed to make the statement this is who Ella Hooper is today. It's been around two years since we heard the lead single from In Tongues, 'Low High' and it's a testament to the strength of the track that it holds up so well, still sounding as fresh and fun as it was upon release. It's a little quirky, completely charming and sees Hooper dipping her feet in the alt-country arena. A call and response segment featuring Graveyard Train reserves 'Low High' a special place in the halls of darker pop excellence. 'Häxan', the second single released, is one album cut that hasn't just held up over time, it continues to get better with each listen and best captures Hooper's theme of possessed beings throughout the album. Every aspect of the track is top notch, but the vocal performance trumps all. Hooper jumps from ethereal beauty to guttural rage effortlessly as she tells the tale of falling under love's spell and, well, having that spell broken. "And of all your blessings, and the curse you placed on me, there was nothing real there, there was nothing to believe."





One of the more straight up rock and or roll moments comes in the form of 'Wild Stallionz'. I've got a feeling this will be a clear fan favourite, especially at live shows with the emphasis on the steady guitar lines and "get up and get off" vibe Hooper is putting out there. This could just be in my head, but a slight nod might be being thrown in the direction of Shirley Manson and Garbage in the best possible way here and I'm loving it. There's a layered vocal segment with a sex appeal that screams Manson. Again, Shirley... not Marilyn. No. Another more classic rock sounding track with a modern twist is next up, 'The Red Shoes'. There's some dramatic imagery in the lines, "you lace me up, you lace me down, 'til I'm dancing in my blood." What else should one expect from a song inspired by a Hans Christian Anderson story? This ain't no Disney fairytale. It's just a little Grimm. 'Everything Was A Sign' stands out as the album's striking ballad. "In those first giddy weeks, everything was a sign for us." Stripped back production at the start places the focus on Ella and the words. She even gets to show off those yodeling skills we've come to know and love. More elements get added in as the song progresses, heightening a growing sense of dread that this is another story that doesn't have the happiest of endings. Everything might have been a sign, but it doesn't necessarily mean it was a good one. "It was true at the time, everything was a sign."


'Diamond Like' is oh so appealing after the flashes of heartbreak that have come before. You can imagine a defiant sneer on Hooper's face as she reveals to some jerk-face, "you're nothing in my eyes, you've fallen from my eyes." I'm really loving the structure of this track too. A choral segment gets dropped in the middle before an extended bridge takes us back to the killer chorus. It's (another) standout moment. After 'Love Is Hard To Kill', which blends soul and calypso into the jam you never realised you needed in your life, we arrive at the last number for In Tongues, 'Last Rites'. A relatively sparse track compared to the rest of the album, Hooper's performance on 'Last Rites' is equally compelling and haunting as she says her goodbyes. It's a dramatic and memorable ending to close us out.


It's been a long time coming, but In Tongues is ready to get out there into the world. Safe to say, the wait was well worth it. You can already tell that this is an album that will stand the test of time and have you coming back for more years from now. While it fits in today's music landscape, there's so many elements of it that are timeless. Long time fans will not be disappointed and with any luck, new fans will find their way to Ella Hooper too. She's confidently stepped out on her own, proving her music can be not only as good as what's come before, but better. While this is Ella Hooper's first solo album, I can only hope it's the first of many, because In Tongues is a knockout record from one of the hardest working artists in music today. Go give it a listen!




Matt Bond gives In Tongues five Nick Cave heads out of five...

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