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Inland (Liberation)

A FIRST READING OF ADALITA SRSEN’S third album outside Magic Dirt might suggest a mess of contradictions, musically, emotionally, tonally. Desire and destruction, internal musings in endless settings, small scale thrown grand, hurt proving restorative and deadly.

How does this make sense? It doesn’t, except to say that nothing is as simple as we want it to be. Not for us, not for her or the characters in these songs – who after all may be her and may well feel like us. In short: the inadequate results and surprising successes are so very normal; the mess of contradictions is just very, very human.

In any case, this is some tricky terrain. Take the song, Dazzling where Srsen quietly extols the qualities of a lover: “You make the walls peel back their paint … and I’m a lucky little fool, to have ever broken rules, with you.” She describes herself as “so beguiled it’s a sin” and declares, over and over, “you’re dazzling”. But the obsession is burning in on itself, turning lethal for her, for her sense of self, even as she insists “I won’t be made to feel bad for loving you”.

It’s true, Dazzling doesn’t make explicit the consuming fire. Indeed, you could just as easily mount an argument for the circumstances being wildly romantic, even if more in a Bronte manner than a Cartland one (mind you, that should worry you if you’ve read the books and not just the crib notes, but hey, each to their own when it comes to l’amour fou, right?) so my reading of it is as much about me as her. Still …

Things seem less obscured later on, in Missed You, which opens with a slowly rising space, the voice sat facing a leaning-towards-toward-disaffected electric guitar. “I tried to cut you out/I thought I was sensible,” she says with a weariness that is beyond bone-deep to soul-gouging.

She is stretched out once more on her bed, it being all she can do in the wake of what she tries to downplay as “just a silly crush”, even as everything she does contradicts that claim. As the guitar solo curves and curls in the final throes of the song, it doesn’t pretend to have accepted regret as appropriate or to be ruling out a return if circumstances – but which I mean almost any bone thrown her way – were to change.

But don’t get too judgemental or proscriptive. One of the most fascinating parts of Inland is the way neither protagonist nor listener can remain steady on their outposts of certainty.

Yes, such obsession rips at the fabric of self-respect, and she knows it: “I’m a full-grown woman with things to do,” she says in the very first song, Private Feelings. And a part of her sees the path ahead. “What do I gotta do to stay away from you?” But knowing what not to do means little as the emotional rip tugs. Immediately on Private Feelings’ heels, Equations explains just that: “You’re my non-stop infatuation,” she sings before letting her voice spiral up wordlessly but clear nonetheless.

Similarly, for those cautioning against or listening in and shaking heads, how much is any nice, safe, trough-free life crying out for a peak or two even if it is followed by a crash into that trough? Or to put it another way, even as the path seems sporadically and dangerously lit in the intermittent shades of guitar through Listened Hard, how viscerally connecting – let’s just say it, darkly thrilling – is the promise of the thrusting drums and bass?

Inland is not in any obvious way a “band” record: Srsen’s exposed guitar not just the dominant sound but often the only one, in conversation with the voice in much the same way as the doomed lovers seem so wholly focused on each other that the world is reduced to two pinpoints.

But it is a record that is prepared to countenance and then to revel in the way such intensity creates its own source of power and then harness the force of drums, bass and more.

The utterly claustrophobic Blue Smoke is a prime example of this, beginning in hunched-shoulders insularity of low voice and guitar, eyes and ears and skin oblivious to all outside forces, only to find that this pressure must go somewhere (that’s science baby!) and the full band sound which comes over the top is accompanied by shards of backing vocals, all piercing the bubble. And then all refashioning that bubble into something fuller, heavier, but no less enclosed.

As Burke and Wills and Leichhardt, or for that matter Lawson’s Drovers Wife as reimagined by Leah Purcell, could tell you, an exploration of the inland, an attempt to tame it and shape it, is tantalising and fraught. Beautiful in its own way and deadly for the unprepared, that is its reward. If reward it be.


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