In recent years, Ella Hooper has proved herself to be more than the grungy teen front-woman of her and brother Jesse Hooper’s Violent Town pop-punk band Killing Heidi. First came the sibling’s country acoustic double-act The Verses. From there, the Melbourne singer-songwriter added radio and television credits to her name, and now at the age of 31, she has released her debut solo album In Tongues. The 10-track album marks a musical change of direction for the Spicks and Specks co-captain, showcasing a more mature, softer and more introspective side to Ella Hooper.
Moody and layered pop underscores Hooper’s husky vocals, boosted by piercing guitar hooks and echoey piano. Lyrically, the album explores the many stages of a relationship, from the “first giddy weeks” (‘Everything Was A Sign’) to eventual heartache, brought to life sonically through dark, bluesy ballads. The album’s producer Jan Skubizewski (Owl Eyes, John Butler Trio) is known for his subtle fusion of electronic and pop-laden soundscapes, and titular track ‘In Tongues’ is no exception. It has a strident and catchy guitar riff, setting the confident tone of the album.
Hooper’s angelic sing-song delivery in the chorus is an effective foil for the gravelly vocals in the verse, and the music flows nicely into ‘Low High’. The first single off the album is a hypnotic Middle-Eastern infused mantra, complete with macho male call-and-answer backing courtesy of horror-country act Graveyard Train.
In diverse comparison, ’Häxan’ is a sexy nostalgia trip. Hooper’s sensual, lethargic vocals swoon over an organ-dominated soundscape, peppered with a lush layer of beats and synths. The song is a simmering tale of hexes, spells and trickery, with mesmerising sonic swells that threaten to put you “under a spell” with every listen.
In Tongues combines Hooper’s distinctively sweet yet smouldering vocals with music that is both spiky and hypnotic. The record acts like a musical memoir, told with pining regret and remembrance and spontaneous sounding guitar licks that surface on every track. The ‘z’ in ‘Wild Stallionz’ sells the song short, which actually boasts a funky fuzzy guitar rhythm and a repetitive Hooper demanding “give me a man that’s completely broken”.
Popular single ‘The Red Shoes’ has a much darker tone than previous tracks (“I’ll be dancing in my blood”), with Hooper’s almost angry singing style in the chorus penetrating the rhythmic pop beat. The tale is of a metaphorically battered ballerina, and hits an emotional chord thematically deeper than that of its initial Black Swan connotations.
In the second half of the album, Hooper ventures more into the more conventional ballad genre, however, her poetic storytelling and smoky vocals ground the tracks’ radio-friendly angst. She sounds echoey, almost ethereal, pleading over ABBA-esque beats. Sci-fi and astrological heavy ‘Dark Stars’ and ‘Diamond Like’ are the most commercial songs on the record, and therefore, are the least memorable.
The album’s fitting finale ‘Last Rites’ (co-written with her brother Jesse) has a melancholic, spaghetti Western flavour with its quivering strings and choral vocals. It’s a Deep South tinged lullaby, with a finger-picking, eerie opening in the same vein as ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The song cements the album’s underscored religious and occult themes, as Hooper strains over the post-apocalyptic balladry. The music lingers after every listen and as soon as the song stops you’ve left hungry to play it all over again.
Each track bleeds perfectly into the next, with Hooper’s raw vocals getting seemingly huskier as the LP progresses – almost as if she’s been singing one continuous live performance! In Tongues is a strong solo album and a successful departure from early garage jam days. Hooper’s ephemeral storytelling is poetic and dreamy, complementing a confident sounding debut that is lush and immersive.
In Tongues is now November 21st via independent release Ella Hooper/Gigi Digi