Georgia Odette Sallybanks AKA Odette’s first album To A Stranger is definitely more than a sum of the parts. The album is a near flawless whole even though there is a revolving door of collaborators (only one co-write is repeated) holds together well perhaps due to the participation of producer and mixer Damian Taylor. All the while the tracks maintain a definite air of individuality with a balance of the ethereal and urban.
In terms of the former, opening track Collide begins slowly with spare piano chords and a layered vocal echoing the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser before Odette sings her first words, “I’m wounded” setting the scene for the lyrical content to follow. While Lights Out is a step in the direction of an urban sound, it is not until the following Watch Me Read You that Odette fully embraces the influence of hip hop. Her spoken word over a near trademark finger-click beat intro and outro and inclusion of a Maya Angelou sample recalls the ZTT label’s Propaganda or Grace Jones. For Come Close, think Vangelis with an 80s soundtrack electro-vibe and feel of film end credits. While Sarah Blasko collaborators Ben Fletcher and David Hunt are credited on Do You See Me it does not sound like her and the track is accentuated by a string arrangement by the prolific Owen Pallett.
Fractured Glass gives rise to a pounding industrial beat and very nearly threatens to erupt before giving way to Odette’s piano and gentle vocal in the closing moments. The album’s only truly solo outing, Lotus Eaters, is an intermission unadorned by Damian Taylor’s programming. In stark contrast to the previous track, Odette’s performance is pared down to piano and a vocal alternating between spoken word and singing, the higher notes bringing to mind Katie Noonan. Onyx is a slowed down PJ Harvey’s Down By the River with LANKS’ presence in no way intrusive as similar contributions can tend to be and complements Odette’s vocal.
As the album comes towards a close, there is an anthemic sing along of positive redemption in Take It To The Heart. This track is almost pure pop with the familiar finger-click beat once again to the fore although closer examination of the lyrics shows that it does not veer far from Odette’s regular area of contemplation. The mellow morning after ambience of You follows the melodically uplifting reclamation of Take It To The Heart the night before. You seems ageless, undated and initially washes over you while percussive effects build to something more musically sinister and substantial. This penultimate track is a coda to the album before Odette is almost solo again with Pastel Walls, the lyrics equally evoking Romeo and Juliet or a potential tale of domestic abuse.
This is a beautiful album that deserves repeated listening and rewards the listener on further exploration of the musical motifs and lyrical self-reflection. In fact, there is so much in the deceptively straightforward wordplay that the listener is caught up in the lingering narratives and the texture in the musical backing is not always immediately apparent upon early listening.
Album review by Jason Leigh