Album Review: Odette – Herald

[EMI Australia; 2021]

A herald is defined as a sign which indicates a future event and perhaps also reminds people – to either their dismay or relief – that change is inevitable. Australian singer-songwriter Georgia Sallybanks, known to the world as Odette, is completely aware that relationships in particular are destined to alter with time. Yet even possessing this awareness doesn’t mean one is emotionally prepared when these changes occur – especially when the sweet connections between people suddenly sour. When these connections eventually break, you can be left reeling, depressed and questioning where you can go from here. On her second album, Herald, Odette beautifully (and brutally) explores such post-breakup fallout, accountability and the struggle of finding oneself again.

While Odette’s debut album To A Stranger was a great mixture of piano ballads and pop with electronic elements, Herald utilises a different sonic palette with abundant strings, wind instruments and horns. This experimentation gives the album a classical feel and helps enhance the emotional textures of the tracks while showing a progression in artistry. Lyrically it’s similar to her first album, demonstrating versatility in her writing as it veers between poetic imagery, soul-baring emotional analysis and a penchant for pop hooks. However, what fundamentally underlines this album is her transparency, her willingness to admit fault – a rare quality in humanity – and use that as the foundation to rebuild herself.

Herald opens with the title track, which showcases Odette’s new sonic palette and situates her on the verge of epiphany. The track possesses a modern-meets-medieval style of production with its bouncy rhythm harps, wind instruments and piano. “I wondered if this was death / And I thought it was happiness,” she sings, realising she wants freedom from a stagnant relationship. It is a terrific starting point for the album that only makes the following track “Dwell” starker in its sudden loneliness. With a repeated refrain of “I’m getting high to hide the lows / It’s what I do when I’m alone,” the song finds Odette in the brambles of self-assessment and pondering who she has become. Initially pared back with its skeletal, spidery synths, the song eventually swells into a brilliant combination of deep synths, twinkling piano and skittering drums that only adds to the drama.

Further self-analysis continues on baroque pop gem “I Miss You, I’m Sorry” where Odette finds accountability, acknowledging a role she played in the dissolution of a relationship. Over piano and strings, she sings with a glint of self-deprecating humour: “Guess I’ll pour another drink / Apparently that’s what we do.” Although the track is apologetic it also has a satisfying directness as she sings “I’m sorry I fucked up repeatedly.” Her personality in particular shines and illuminates the realistic push-and-pull feelings that often accompany a break-up.

The soaring and epic “Why Can’t I Let The Sun Set?” interrogates her ability to genuinely move forward from past hurt. Strikingly beautiful and melancholy, Odette alludes to being in a dark place describing how she has seen the “moon shimmer on the water” and “done [her] best not to dive in.” The track is a testament to how the inability to let go of things poisons your mental health.

Although Odette analyses herself plenty on this album, she is also unafraid to direct her gaze at those who have caused her harm. The melodically astounding “Trial By Fire” portrays the difficult lesson that sympathising with a friend’s inner demons can sometimes lead to the allowance of toxic behaviour. “You were raised surrounded by antagonists / I know I would have been the same if I lived the life you lived,” she empathises over dreamy piano work. “Feverbreak”, her unexpected collaboration with Australian dance producers Hermitude, analyses how sex doesn’t equate to genuine connection. An exercise in musical synergy with Hermitude’s glitchy beats, which are subdued and refined to accompany Odette’s piano playing, this track contains some of her most heartbreaking lyrics. “She’s a body, not herself / Not a lover but a service,” she states, highlighting the emptiness that can accompany turning to sex for comfort. Although she admits that the man in question is “cold” she knows that she will “see [him] tonight” regardless. There’s a more scathing attitude on this track (“He never touched her words / He barely touched her bones”) that demonstrates a new side to the singer unseen before.

Where Herald reaches glorious peaks is when Odette, after much torment and sadness, feels she can start the road to recovery. For example, the ascending track “Amends” has her wanting to “sew what’s ripped and torn” over a dramatic production of harp, strings and horns. Both contemplative and uplifting, this song finds Odette moving forward singing “I don’t want to rush / I want to take my time / I want to learn to love.”  The concluding track “Mandible” contains vivid imagery describing “a gull [plucking] pilchards from the water” and a mandible “with jagged teeth stained by mildew.” The song feels like a hark back to the start of the album with stirring strings and a muted beat beneath. “Mandible” not only shows her acceptance of flaws (“I’m no flower, though I wilt”) but shows that she has succeeded in reclaiming herself. The final lyrics are: “I will lash out at the web that’s keeping me from everyone,” giving a sense of optimism and promise to disentangle herself from the past to be better for others and herself.

If sophomore albums – often a source of anxiety for many artists – are really so definitive of whether an artist can consistently deliver, experiment, or even improve upon their last work, then Odette has nothing to worry about. There are a lot of lessons that arise from psychological turmoil and heartbreak that Odette graciously imparts on Herald. It is often hard to admit difficult truths to yourself – much less to the strangers who will listen to this album – but it’s this disclosure that makes this album special. These narratives will resonate and perhaps encourage people to admit their mistakes and perceive their low points as an opportunity to improve themselves.