London songwriter Austel has graced her audiences with the meditative new feature-length album ‘Feathers’; a raw collection of poetry and writing that will leave you feeling like you’ve discovered a part of yourself long lost in the turmoil of a tiresome existence. Lets dive straight into the Album, and I encourage you to listen along!
‘Anaesthesia’ is the opening track of the tender album; the gentle fade-in of the piano perfectly establishes the overall theme of unabashed vulnerability in the album to come. Austel’s vocals are presented in a restrained and intimate setting that allows the chorus lyrics “and I don’t wanna know, if you can take me whole” to really shine amidst the sparse instrumentation.
Moving gently on from the opening number, ‘Now We’re Here’ is built on the pairing of an arpeggiated piano line, and the gorgeously light dancing melody in the higher end of Austel’s vocal range. A simple and wonderfully effective addition in this song is the texture of the piano pedal pressing back with the arpeggiation, providing this subtle low-end throb to contrast the lightness in the melody, which then leads into the thicker instrumentation by the half-way point of the track
With a relatively simple repeating ostinato from the piano, ‘I Sit with My Back to the Sun’ employs a lot of drama through the chord changes underneath the melody. The layered wave of Austel’s vocals are glorious to listen to, and Austel showcases a real understanding of subtly in electronic effects; her less-is-more approach bringing out a storytelling element that might be lost had there been an onslaught of effects.
The graceful opening of ‘Lost at Home’ has such a strong tangibility to it, that closing your eyes has you transported to the room in which it may have been written. The relationship between Austel’s singing and piano playing feel especially connected in this song, thousands of kilometeres away I feel like I can picture her movements across the keys, emotionally motivated and proudly expressive.
the shortest piece on the album, ‘Ghosts’, showcases a delicate balance of electro-atmospheric textures with a gentle piano line and some subtle strums of the guitar. There is something very organic about this piece, like it could soundtrack a small bird twittering around on a cold morning.
‘Crows’ flows seamlessly from ‘Ghosts’, but with a distinctively sadder feeling. After having a brief mid-point pause of Austel’s vocals, the quiet melody that emerges from the soft piano carries a deep intimacy, and you are drawn into her emotive vocals. I love Austel’s patience with this song, and her trust in a beautiful melody that is repeated over and over. The track feels solidified and constant like a wheel, and almost encourages you to sing along to it.
‘Choke’ comes in with an almost abrupt modulation from the previous complimentary songs; its’ unease reinforced with the bold minor chords that give off a sinister feeling. Each predeceasing song up until this point have carried a sense of comfort and welcome within the vulnerability, this is the first time you feel a great sense of cinematic boldness from Austel in this album. The chord choices are reminiscent of long form narrative series like Narnia or Lord of the Rings; regal, epic, at times devastating.
There is a lot of softness in the ‘Feathers’ album, ‘Dry’ comes as a particularly gentle piece, the first half of the track almost fading into the distance as the notes on the piano are presented in a particularly muted way. As the track progresses, and the characterisation of the piano builds and evolves, ‘Dry’ takes you through a journey of dynamic expression that successfully communicates depth as an instrumentational work.
‘Cold War’ presents a new piano texture, a brighter sound that compliments the airy vocals of Austel as she returns to the stage with a restrained and poetic opening verse. Austel isn’t afraid to give her music the stage it deserves, ‘Cold War’ continuing on far beyond the vocal melody, and evolving into a deep swell with the strings.
‘Hours’ employs a refreshing sci-fi-esque drive in the swells of the synthessers, something that works in tandem with the singular note that florusihed at the top of the production range. The brightness of ‘Cold War’ is felt within the vocals of ‘Hours’, and the light textures in the top end of the tracks range have an unearthly, floating feel to them, even as Austels lower register grounds you in reality.
Closing the “Feathers” body of work is the moving piece ‘Horses in My Dreams’, a piece packed with lush, shimmering reverbs to accompany some beautifully textured strings. There’s a strong pull with the chord rhythms in ‘Horses in My Dreams’, however Austels vocals fall around them almost like molasses, as she allows great patience to have her message told. To me, this signifies a massive trust in the flow of a songs composition, as if Austel is in complete control of the pace of which her writing enters a listeners ear. The chords in ‘Horses in My Dreams’ are beautifully cinematic, especially as the production crescendo’s and the reverbs swell into a dramatic wash.
If I could make a judgement on Austel as a songwriter after having bathed in the magnificent glory of ‘Feathers’, it would be that Annie is a highly skilled melody and lyric writer, and this stripped back work is proof of music being fundamentally a craft that is built on the vital skill of composition. The melodic choices in these tracks are completely gorgeous and gentle, and I am desperate to experience the work in its ethereal entirety in a candle-lit church somewhere in the woods.
Austel is creating music to transform the hardened heart, and this album is a clear love letter to music and writing as an artform.