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Early Moon (Three Of Hearts/Virgin)

YOU WOULDN'T NECESSARILY be able to put your finger on a specific line or song: while there is nothing like a pall of gloom anywhere, there is no obvious outpouring of unbridled joy; no damn the consequences we’re going to live high; no Feist-ready 1234, for that matter.

It may well be more of a Dennis Denuto thing, or a bit of hopeful projection at my end – though I don’t think so, given it’s not my natural state – and you couldn’t rule out that it’s an afterglow of involvement with the ultimately successful independent candidacy on Sydney’s northern beaches that Sally Seltmann and her husband, Darren, supported with time, money and a campaign song during the last federal election.

But there is something quite positive, on balance, quite optimistic, realistically, about us and the world, all through the new album from the Sydney singer/songwriter. A mood that feels (unfairly) unexpected and yet (unfailingly) exactly what’s necessary.

Written and recorded through lockdown and the post-lockdown but still severely constrained times we are not yet through, Early Moon works in now familiar territory for Seltmann of mostly piano-based pop songs with low-key electronic interventions, which benefit from a seemingly effortless facility for melody. But they are all a little more elevated in spirit, consistently, than she has shown us before.

Take for example the song Lovers Lie. Its formal, almost stiff, rhythm first finds some flourish in a flute, then a mini-feast of voices, before a swirling sigh of a synth line paints a breathy picture. By this point you realise that the line that “all lovers lie” is not an admonition but rather a recognition that sometimes it’s okay to “stretch the truth” if it means you can “keep the love alive”, or just delay an end.

Or maybe Real Born Tragic, which practically bounces out of the speakers on a skipping rhythm and sprinkling piano, its chorus kicked up a gear by a happy Salvos marching band bass drum, sums the record up. In it, Seltmann cheerfully declares that “I lose myself like a true romantic, when you act like a real born tragic” and makes it clear that if love begets love, a willingness to bare the ultimate vulnerability can work the same magic.

When Table For One, almost provocatively ‘80s-to-the-max (those synths! that saxophone!) convinces you of the pleasures of solitary eating with a book and no interference, and its sonic opposite, the echoey atmosphere and wishful search for experience of Fill My Senses, makes you believe in the banjo as a none-more-inner-city instrument, the tide is clearly coming in.

Maybe that rising tide provides enough ambiguity in Night Bird to allow its clip-clop piano, not quite floating away melody, and unexpected avian presence in hiptown corner of Los Angeles, to be interpreted by each of us differently.

After all, even the song which opens the album finds positivity in its downbeat, hope in its pleading. Ostensibly about a friendship which possibly foundered over a now-forgettable man and now leaves a yawning absence in the protagonist’s life, Please Louise has the bustling energy of a night on the town (like the night the friendship ended), a sneakily progressing, semi-submerged guitar line, and a momentum that almost convinces you that this can be repaired.

Does Seltmann believe, or does she just want to? Then again, are we doing the same thing, telling ourselves little lies until it becomes true? I don’t know that it matters.

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