Tegan Northwood: Last Days of Home

The third album from New South Wales-based singer-songwriter Tegan Northwood, Last Days of Home presents eleven atmospheric songs bridging electronic, pop, and folk genres. Despite the earth-bound character of the album presentation and Northwood's artistic sensibility, there's an undeniably ethereal quality to her vocal style, and the similarity between her singing and Cocteau Twins' Liz Frazer is one that Northwood herself wouldn't deny. Mystical in nature, breezy in feel, and enhanced by field recordings of her immediate environment, the songs often multiply Northwood's voice until it becomes a full-bodied choir that acts in counterpoint to her lead vocal. The music likewise exudes a Cocteau Twins-like quality, with the shimmering guitar masses that underpin many songs (e.g., “Mourning Song”) approximating Robin Guthrie's playing albeit in acoustic form.

That Cocteau Twins connection asserts itself immediately in the lush opener “Web to Protect” where Northwood's multi-tracked voice entwines itself around a sinuous vocal melody. There's no denying the song's epic, multi-tiered arrangement and the vocal arrangement proves seductive too. Though the restrained verses in “Find Me Now” are more suggestive of Dido for their own good, the song's choruses exude a rousing quality that's pure Cocteau Twins. The album isn't, however, a track-for-track imitation of the group, as Northwood also ventures beyond that restrictive template. Presenting her voice at its most naked and agile, “Thinking About You,” for example, couples a timeless folk melody with field recordings of birds and natural atmosphere. She repeats the “Inner Flow” title like a mantra to generate a breezy incantation, “Mourning Song” impresses with its exuberance and upward sweep, and Pete Rivett-Carnac (Single Gun Theory) brings a downtempo funk feel to his mix of “Like the Sea.” Northwood favours a vibrant production aesthetic that lends the material a widescreen character, and, consequently, an atmospheric mood piece such as “Caterpillar Girl” comes across as more epic than it otherwise might.

The release isn't without flaws. In the end, Northwood's crystal clear delivery hints at the vocal styles of Liz Frazer and Tracey Thorn without quite possessing the unique character of either. The fifty-five-minute album's also longer than it needs to be, with a superfluous mix version of “Web to Protect” and a captivating but overlong field recordings setting (“Last Days of Home”) candidates for omission. While the latter isn't irrelevant to the album's theme—part of her goal in recording the album was to capture the sounds of her homeland, something the nature-based animal chatter and beach sounds do accomplish—it's nevertheless anomalous when heard in the context of a song-based album. Even so, it's an immaculately-crafted collection created with obvious dedication, and Northwood infuses her electronic-pop settings with undeniable sincerity and personality.

August 2009