Tuesday, 25 August 2015

EP Review - Venom




VENOM
by Ella Hooper (out now)




Ella Hooper's debut solo album In Tongues marked a turning point in the career of one of Australia's greatest musical talents. Reborn an indie-chanteuse of the highest order, the LP offered a slew of sophisticated pop and rock gems that were anchored by the fiery power her fans have celebrated for over fifteen years. Less than a year later Hooper returns with the Venom EP, a collection of tracks that showcase the most vulnerable side of her we've seen yet. These are songs to break and make your heart, songs that many of us will relate to and maybe even find a sense of catharsis from that I can only imagine (and hope) Hooper achieved in the recording process. Venom is the painful journey from confused heartache to the eventual release that comes with accepting something you can't change. It's a terribly effecting piece of work that lovers of the sad musics will hold dear to their heart, but it's not all doom and gloom. Let's take a closer look at the tracks and you'll see what I mean...      


Singing to the rats in the park... after dark
Wonder if you don't have the guts... or the heart
To tell me the whole story I wanted to know for so long
- 'Rats'


A vivid image of Hooper's world is painted on 'Rats', a song rich with melancholy and full of all of those questions you can't fight from popping into your head when you find yourself at your lowest. As will always be the case with tales of this nature, it feels like you've been invited to join in on a very private moment. The narrator's heart and mind locked in battle. Will they break down completely or find the inner strength to get them through the night? A more restricted use of instrumentation than we're used to wisely puts the focus on the lyrics and Hooper's defeated performance. With the constant shaker percussion highlighting the internal conflict and loss of reason, the question of, "is this something I deserve?" becomes, "this is something I deserve." The pain felt in that moment becomes paramount and the image of Hooper, a friend or even yourself sitting alone in that park at night with only your thoughts to keep you company stays in your mind long after the track has finished.     


There'll always be someone willing to be
A complicit part in your duplicity
- 'Sarah Sarah Laura'


Have you ever broken up with someone (who was a dick) and gone on a bit of a bender? You might have come to your senses in some low-lit bar at an unsavoury hour with a lounge singer morosely working their way through their issues and you have a moment of clarity where you're like... "you know what, [insert name of choice] was a dick!" And in that moment, even if it's just for a moment, you stop thinking you're to blame. Then you regret that last whiskey. That's happened to you right? Maybe not... but that's what 'Sarah Sarah Laura' feels like. "No shortage of bitches, with Daddy issues, to make you feel special, to tell you they miss you." The Sarah, the other Sarah, the Laura, the not so mysterious other in what you thought was a real relationship. It might take two to tango, but the blame finds itself directed in the right place here; [insert name of choice] aka the dick.  


Waiting for a sign
Your hand on the wheel
Not in mine
Not in mine
- 'Rapeseed'


I did some research on rapeseed and by research I mean Google searches, Wikipedia etc. because journalism. The yellow flowering vegetable also goes by the name of canola, which seems to be grown a fair bit around Violet Town aka the home of Ella Hooper. I'm not known for agricultural knowledge, but I hopefully get the story of 'Rapeseed', which features a numb Hooper returning to her roots and leading directly into the next song, 'Good Wagon'. A long introduction that calls to mind organ music you might hear at a funeral is suddenly interrupted by trip-hop like electronic beats that would make Portishead nod their heads in approval. A cigarette likely hanging from Beth Gibbons' mouth as she nods her head slowly and precisely, ash falling beautifully to the ground. She's kinda magical. So is Ella Hooper and the atmosphere she creates on this song. 


I had to go home to make it
Like it had never happened
- 'Good Wagon'


You're likely more 'with it' than I am, but it was with 'Good Wagon' I understood Venom was following a narrative and we had arrived at the penultimate chapter. It's also at this point we can see some true healing beginning. There's a fuller sound to 'Good Wagon' and a newfound strength in the featured vocals. If there was a song that would be at home on In Tongues, this would be it. A fantastic slice of alt-country that reworks the old adage to be something more like your heart is where your home is.  


I gave you so many chances, baby
I gave you all I got
Maybe you don't remember that way
But I gave it the fucking lot
- 'Couldn't Have Loved You More' 


Can a song be uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time? Of course it can. 'Couldn't Have Loved You More' certainly is. But if it leans towards one over the other, the final Venom track is the uplifting closure you're wanting. It might not be a cinematic happy ending, but it's full of acceptance and hope. The home stretch is the light to the dark that's come before and it will make you feel all of the feels like only the very best music can. Nothing sucks more than being made to feel like you're crazy for having high hopes and dreams for the future, especially when it comes to a relationship. "Spent time being blind thinking I was crazy, but at least I know now I am not, I won't ever do that to myself again, I'd laugh about it if I could." Love makes you do the wacky. A powerful end to Venom sends you off on a high... maybe even a low high.


What becomes of the brokenhearted? Venom has your answers. I like that line about it being music to break and make your heart. That's exactly what it is. A story that follows a beginning, middle and end timeline that's really a story about an ending becoming a new beginning. It's an already strong storyteller at her strongest and an established music maker finding strength in unfamiliar sounds. Venom might seem like it's for lovers of the sad musics, but I think everyone will be able to find themselves relating to at least one if not all of the EP tracks. And, hey, keep in mind that Ella plans to release a follow up EP called New Magic later in the year or next year that promises to be just the pick me up you'll need to brighten your day. Personally, I'm a big fan of the sad songs. And I'm a big fan of Ella Hooper, which makes rating the Venom EP all too easy...




Matt Bond gives the Venom EP five red, red wine emoji out of five...

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