An EP from Carla dal Forno containing four new, obliquely confessional dispatches from the edge zones of feeling. It marks both a refinement of the dub-damaged, inward-looking bedsit pop essayed on her 2016 debut album You Know What It’s Like, and an evolutionary leap.
While there is warmth and intimacy to come, The Garden opens with a cold hard stare: ‘We Shouldn’t Have To Wait’, an unexpectedly confrontational companion piece, or response, to her own ‘Fast Moving Cars’. This is not a dazed reverie, but forceful, fatalistic, void-chasing drone-rock led by a stalking, venus-in-furs bassline that levels everything in its path. No longer gazing from afar at fast moving cars, but behind the wheel of one, driving pretty recklessly. No particular destination in mind, but impatient to get there.
‘Clusters’, then, is the sound of (unexpected) arrival in something close to paradise, and slowing down the better to take it in: a bright, imagistic, electronic pop fantasy in the tradition of Stereolab, Broadcast or Saint Etienne, with lyrics plucked and rearranged from the pages of a National Geographic article. dal Forno’s voice, newly prominent and minimally accompanied, sounds close to contented, but also worldly-wise and not a little suspicious of her surroundings…the only problem with paradise is the people in it. ‘Make Up Talk’, written last summer in Melbourne, is a tense, awkward unpicking of a dysfunctional relationship (aren’t they all), its murky sound design, thrift-store percussion and lyrical starkness pegging it as the closest relation to You Know What It’s Like, and perhaps also the closing of that particular chapter.
The EP’s title track – and its clear climax – pays tribute to Einsturzende Neubauten’s song of the same name, but shifts the action to nighttime, and brings an acutely female perspective to bear on it: here the garden is a place of beauty and refuge, sure, but also one of hidden menace and threat…things that lurk. dal Forno has never sounded so emotionally eloquent, and at the same time ‘The Garden’ is without doubt her most subtly psychedelic production to date. Her glissando bassline and understated synth-work powerfully evoke the moonlight, the dew and the dark boughs, while her cut-glass vocals – still romantically inclined but freighted with adult self-knowledge, adult fear – summon the Tracey Thorn of Eden and Massive Attack’s Protection, but have their own character, occupy their own space in the aether.
What makes The Garden so satisfying is how decisively it moves away from the post-punk/lo-fi sensibilities of You Know What Its Like, without vacating them entirely. You could still call this a DIY record – dal Forno wrote, played, arranged and recorded every note herself. And you could still call it a bedroom record – that’s where it all happened. But in calling it either, you’d be doing a disservice to the musical and technical accomplishments of dal Forno’s flawless, fully-realised dream-pop. The Garden is a compact masterpiece from a remarkable artist who – frighteningly, excitingly – has only just begun to hit her stride.