Julia Deans: We Light Fire (Tardus/Rhythmethod)

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All of the Above
Julia Deans: We Light Fire (Tardus/Rhythmethod)

Although women artists under their own name are still under-represented in our local music charts – just five albums in the New Zealand top 20, one still being Lorde's Melodrama after 49 weeks, another being Party by Aldous Harding after 53 weeks, and only Lorde in the main internationals chart – the other evidence is that many local women are making massive inroads into our cultural consciousness.

Note that all five of last year's Silver Scroll nominees were women, that this year's music month opened with Jamie McDell's excellent and mature Extraordinary Girl and Sandy Mills' long overdue solo outing on A Piece of Me (which followed fine albums by Emily Fairlight and Death and the Maiden).

The month closes with Tami Neilson's terrific new one Sassafrass! and this album by former Fur Patrol singer Julia Deans which came in at #5 on the New Zealand music charts a fortnight ago and remains there, tucked in behind long-stayers like Six60 (two albums), Marlon Williams and of course Lorde.

You might have thought Six60 fans have all bought or finished streaming their self-title album after 169 weeks and that Williams' fanbase might be sated after his current tour and that might let Deans ride even higher on the back of this collection, her first in eight years since her Taite Prize-nominated Modern Fables.

She certainly deserves attention for this more outward-looking collection which courageously opens with the agonisingly slow and beautiful four minutes of Clandestine. It announces that here we are in for a serious listening session and not an album which is going to play to the gallery.

Certainly there is a spring in her step here – more so than its predecessor – and a title like Walking in the Sun (a bright piano-based ballad which scatters ripples of pop) is indicative of an artist confidently embracing all sides of her personality. And when required her powerful and personal delivery – so evident when exploring the songs of Jacques Brel from the inside a few years ago – really brings the pop-rock end of the spectrum home (Burning Cars is resonant with coiled menace).

With restrained colour and rhythm from synths (as on the dreamlike melodic drone of Souvenir which gently build in intensity), these songs have some extra texture also.

All of the Above isn't ashamed of its classic Fifties references (like some chanson conceived near the Brill Building), Panic is synth-chugger pop-rocker which is the weakest thing and sounds aimed right at the heart of radio and the title track is a downbeat acoustic folk number with a warm optimism balanced by realism: “All I want in this life is a light to relieve me from the cold and the dark 'til the dawn” she sings in quiet monotone.

The closing piece Chelsea -- like the title track is owes a little to the tradition from Joni Mitchell onward -- was written after the suicide of a friend's daughter and holds out a hand and heart to those left behind to wonder. And to those on the precipice.

We Light Fire doesn't give itself up readily in some places but you know that it is an album that is here for a long time.

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