Growth is a funny thing. It tends to go about its business in secret, like a submerged propeller pushing a ship through rough seas. Rarely do we get to experience what goes on beneath the surface; what change sounds like in motion. That’s what makes Odette’s new record, Herald, so extraordinary. Over the course of 11 soaring songs, we get to hear exactly what that journey sounds like in achingly honest detail.
Chronicling the last five years of 23-year-old Georgia Odette Sallybanks’ life, Herald plays like a coming-of-age drama minus the happy Hollywood ending. “Transitioning from adolescence into adulthood is really hard”, Odette says. “No one gives you the tools, you know?”
A triumphant follow up to her highly acclaimed debut record, 2018’s To A Stranger, the songs on Herald leave no subjective stone unturned. Love, heartbreak, grief, anger, self-analysis, accountability—you name it, it’s on here. “This album is sort of a nuanced discussion of the positives and the negatives of mental illness and also just being a human being. It talks about the realities of hurting others, the consequences of that, and even more so, it holds me accountable—it holds me to my word”, she says.
There’s an undeniable youthfulness to this record, not in a naïve sense, but in the urgency and fervent fury of its delivery. Odette’s unique brand of experimental pop reaches new heights here—theatrical, expansive, and at times so dramatic and surreal it borders on satirical. “I used to view this record as a dramatic statement of ‘I am damaged!’ and now I listen back to it and it’s almost satirical how dramatic some of these songs are because I don’t view conflict at all like I used to. I’ve taken accountability for myself, and how much space I’ve been taking up—but it happens! I’m only 23!”
Working once again with famed producer Damian Taylor (Björk, Arcade Fire, The Killers), Odette says Taylor gave her the confidence to experiment further with her sound this time around. “He was like, Georgia, I just want you to let go and deep dive into your world and make something from it”, she says. “So I feel like I was a lot bolder with instrumentation and with experimental sounds.”
Among a sea of sonically surreal sounds, you’ll hear bugs, insects, and even the stirring cry of a magpie. “I was in Canberra at 4 am, and in the middle of the street amidst the fog was the most haunting magpie that was actually terrifying but also beautiful, and I felt the feeling of being scared and awed at the same time summed up how I felt about my brain and the world, so I recorded it on my phone and we used it in a song called ‘Amends.’”
On ‘Dwell’, the production-heavy second single off the record, Odette ruminates on her obsession with, well, ruminating. “I convince myself it’s just temporary heartache / Say I’m doing fine / But you can tell / I can’t help but dwell”, she sings. Originally the title track of the record, Odette only recently changed the album name to better reflect its message.
“I sabotaged a lot of good relationships, but I wrote this album because I wanted to document it in a way that wasn’t enabling it. I originally called it ‘Dwell’ because it was all about ruminating, which is a huge problem for me. But it’s one thing to draw attention to an illness or a thought, or a practice or behaviour that isn’t healthy, but it’s another thing to create an image around it, and I didn’t want Dwell to be the main take-away. I wanted it to very much be about reflecting, self-analysis and then growth. The most important part, for me, is the growth.”
And so she arrived at Herald, taken from the string soaked, theatrically throbbing opening track of the album. “It’s about realising I was in a toxic relationship, blaming the partner, and then right at the end going, actually, I think this is my fault.” After peeling back layers and layers of armour, Odette found she was much more fragile and vulnerable than she was letting on. “I guess I wanted to tell everyone that I am a softshell mollusc, deep down”, she says.
This heightened self-awareness traverses the album, especially on expansive songs like ‘What I Know Is Not Enough’, a poetic retelling of her disastrous trip to New York to work on the album. “I went to New York thinking I was going to find myself, but it didn’t go to plan and I got really sick, to put it mildly”, she recalls. Still, if anyone can make a nasty bout of the flu sound poetic, it’s Odette. “And on that simmering fifth day / It was cold but my skin was on fire / And I threw myself out on the porch in the rain / With my nerves twitching like a live wire”, she sings. Told you.
That poetic prowess Odette is renowned for features prominently throughout the record, but perhaps most markedly on the single ‘Feverbreak’, featuring legendary electronic duo, Hermitude. In a subtle homage to her breakout debut single, ‘Watch Me Read You’, ‘Feverbreak’ mixes spoken word with experimental orchestral arrangements.
It’s been a huge few years for the Sydney-based singer-songwriter. Her last album, To A Stranger, debuted at #1 on the Apple Music Charts, landed her two 2018 ARIA noms, garnered 55+ million streams and secured her two national sold out headline tours. In 2019, she ushered in the new year playing Falls Fest before embarking on a successful SXSW run and headline Europe & UK tour. Now, with the release of her transcendental new record, 2021 is shaping up to be her biggest year yet.