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Olympia
Flamingo CJ Thorpe-Tracey , July 19th, 2019 08:07

The second album by Australian singer-songwriter Olympia is a bright and pacey psychedelic pop album, but it loses something in the quest for maximum crossover appeal, finds CJ Thorpe-Tracey

Flamingo is the second album that Olympia – Olivia Bartley, a Wollongong-born alternative pop/rock songwriter and guitarist – has made with producer Burke Reid and in their native Australia her debut Self Talk was a decent-sized hit back in 2016. It was even nominated for the Australian Music Prize. Three years on, her follow-up is more immediate and feels sonically as well as structurally simpler; smoothing over some of the personality that emerged in Self Talk and projecting (deliberately or not) a driving, unabashed focus on international commerce.

Bartley sings beautifully when plaintive on ‘Nervous Riders’, leans into disconcerting melancholy when there’s space to breathe on ‘Won’t Say That’; both quieter jams that aren’t far off a Lana Del Ray vibe. She doesn’t truly slay the heavier songs though. This results in Flamingo having the sonic palette of a producer’s project, even if constructed to travel like a rock band. So, although there are live drum sounds throughout, they’re a touch too tidily processed. The synth leads are almost as buzzy as Bartley’s guitars, yet never edgy enough to stress your ears. Eventually it all mushes together neatly behind her vocal.

Don’t get me wrong: this is an enjoyable, pacey alt/psych/pop album, it’s just that a portion of the swagger, strut and emotion of Olympia’s debut is swallowed in service of crossover appeal.

I do like these choruses a lot, though. And there’s loads of satisfying chew in lyrics that give away the presence of the heavier soul at work. Bartley has a potent line in vivid, descriptive, self-contained phrasing, in which her songs evolve into deeper, more layered and crumpled beasts than the backing tracks suggest (or deserve). There is visceral emotion – real grief – in here and she’s a lyricist who may need more time than I’ve given her so far, to unpack more meaning.

Even with a few of those obligatory droll observational flourishes that Courtney Barnett (who has also worked with Reid) has inspired in a swathe of similarly minded alt-rock singers, especially in Oz, to be fair on Flamingo, Bartley does possess her own rhythm.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how much Flamingo wishes for you to chance upon it posing grainily somewhere in the desert. In truth it sits on a suburban garden fence between an indie/psych Anna Calvi kind of sketch and a more civilised pop product. Flamingo never gets bratty, yet nor does it get breathless. Never does it get caught up in the dynamism of its melodrama, which is a pity. By the title track near the end and deft closer ‘Wrong Number’, it has all got a bit samey. Olympia is still bopping feistily along, when she had the right to explore more complex, ambitious flights of fancy, or a change of tone. I’m into it; I just wish she was less restrained.

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