Ngaiire: Blastoma

Scott Wallace
6th Jun 2016

Blastoma, the second album from Sydney-based singer-songwriter Ngaiire, is precisely what a second album should be. It finds her following her muse into deeply personal places and investing in uniquely textured songs that sound distinctively her. Blastoma is a brave album, with Ngaiire's gorgeous voice navigating a terrain of sharp beats and reaching a stunning emotional apex.

The gentle single "Once," which achieved an enormous amount of airplay and adoration last year, thankfully does not tower over the rest of the record. Its warm, glowing fluidity and quiet pulse are carried over and re-deployed across the remaining eight tracks. The production from Paul Mac and Jack Grace maintains a reservedness throughout, but consistently explores sounds and textures that meld beautifully with Ngaiire's tender, supple voice.

The futuristic R&B sound of the record is very much in style at the moment, but Ngaiire and her collaborators bring a lightness and space to a style that is often characterised by cloying darkness. Whenever Ngaiire sings, there is passion and resistance and a complex array of emotions contained in every syllable. In combination with the brittle and subtle sonic spaces her voice inhabits, the record sounds oddly timeless.

Ngaiire's control is remarkable. She stretches and bends her dusky alto with perfect trills of vibrato, punctuating and dominating each song and expertly colouring in the low-key and delicate arrangements. She floats high above the slow, lugubrious "Cruel" and then immediately after on "House on a Rock," a hard edge to her voice refuses to be subsumed by the churning roar of the production. One of the most striking moments comes at the climax of the beautiful album opener "Anchor," on which she lets out wails that at once sound like both pain and ecstasy.

Blastoma's title and evocative album cover refer to a troubled time in Ngaiire's childhood, and there are veins of fear and worry running through it. Even on the record's most musically muted track, "I Can't Hear God Anymore," which consists of little more than floating keys and a simple beat, Ngaiire reaches deep into her soul and the result is astonishing. The climax of the track is both harrowing and beautiful, with her voice straining into an anguished rasp.

Other tracks act as a salve, their confidence and determinedness acting as the bright counterpoint to the record's most doubtful moments. The absolute peak of the record is "Diggin'." Ngaiire's soulful performance over the leaping staccato track is brilliantly earthy, even while gauzy synths circle around her; It's like a kind of electro-gospel. Everything comes together so brilliantly in the track that it feels almost inevitable that it will be a future classic of Australian music.

Blastoma is often urgent and confronting, with Ngaiire openly grappling with her own faith and wavering optimism, but at its conclusion "Fall Into My Arms" is the ultimate comfort. It's a song that you could swear you've heard somewhere before, so simple is its message of love and care, but Ngaiire sings it like she's addressing her dearest loved one. You may feel a familiar prickling in your eyes listening to the spellbinding way she performs; just give in to it.

Blastoma is out on CD and digital formats on Friday June 10th. Ngaiire is performing at Oxford Art Factory in support of the album on Friday July 8th at Oxford Art Factory.