Album Review: SAFIA – Internal

By on Tuesday, 13th September 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

SAFIA Internal album coverWhat lesson did we learn from the tale of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race. While on paper this doesn’t seem like a winning strategy in the music business, we may have a prime example of success in exactly this way, via an album released just last week. Australian electronic trio SAFIA were one of my top picks from the Aussie BBQ at SXSW 2015. Despite not having released a debut LP, they’ve been fixtures of the Aussie live circuit for the last 7 years, gaining fans and admirers on the booking side of things over time.

The wait for their first big release is over, and if the strength of this 12-track collection is anything to go by, they’re about to become a household name way beyond Oz. The band comprises Ben Woolner (lead vocals), Henry Sayers (guitars and synth) and Michael Bell (drums). All gifted producers on their own, it’s no wonder that they self-produced this album, and there’s no indication that this arguably biased approach has hindered their creative process in any way. In fact, one might argue the greatest take home message of ‘Internal’ is the sheer talent on display on this record, making one wonder why we haven’t heard of this band outside of Australia before. Atmospheric instrumental ‘Zion’ begins the album as if traversing the wild west of electronic music. A mysterious land that seems barren, even dangerous, soon reveals itself, giving way to beguiling beats, then to futuristic, more chill sounds.

The r&b swagger, with its vise-like grip on pop, is evident on ‘Internal’, working in the trio’s favour rather than against it. The bouncy rhythm of ‘My Love is Gone’ makes it a leading candidate in the dance floor filler stakes. A similar celebratory feel is an integral part of ‘Together, Locked Safely’, as Woolner puts his vocals through its melodic paces. Woolner’s soulful, melancholic “I don’t want to be lonely” vocals on ‘Fake It Til the Sunrise’ lead into a tropical beat, then the breakdown where an irrepressible beat underpins the buzzing synths. The heart pumping ‘Close to You’ is another revelation, though the use of autotune seems unnecessary, while ‘Over You’ slinks along appealingly. Hmm, sensing a theme here?

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCH_GNEKlvE[/youtube]

However, it’s the more out-there, surprise tracks that interest me far more than those I already know can (and will) show up on top 40 in due course. ‘Embracing Me’ switches back and forth between pensive, slower moments allowing Woolner’s voice to shine and more frenetic, beat- and synth-driven ones. The lyrics are relatively simple and repetitive; Woolner is making the case to a woman who has told him to leave her alone “you don’t know, all the things that could set you free / like embracing me”. It might be awkward phrasing, yes, but I find it a refreshingly innocent way to court a girl. And seriously, what intelligent woman would say no to a song like this? On the other side of the spectrum, ‘Make Them Wheels Roll’ is a murky hip-hop-esque number, Woolner’s falsetto reminiscent of Dougy Mandagi’s in early Temper Trap material. A slightly gentler approach is taken, surprisingly led along with guitar, in the angsty, dark ‘Go to Waste’.

The album ends with ‘External’, a pep talk to Woolner himself that “there’s no convoluted metaphors for this hollowed space” where he no longer loves who he once did. Some heavy stuff. In its breakdown, the vocals and synths uplift, bringing ‘Internal’ to a positive conclusion and satisfyingly, as if burdens have been shed. There must be a back story to the naming of the album and this song, which will be perfect when we get around to interviewing them. Mixing r&b and electronic into one easily accessible package, it’s a no-brainer that SAFIA are about to be welcomed with open arms by pop fans around the world through ‘Internal’. If I were a betting woman, I’d put all my money on them.

8.5/10

‘Internal’, the amazing debut album from Canberra, Australia’s SAFIA, is out now on Virgin EMI (the UK) and Island Records (North America). For past coverage on SAFIA on TGTF, including my review of their appearance at the Aussie BBQ during SXSW 2015 in Austin last year, go here.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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