Laurel Fixation is one of Perth’s most captivating, brazenly honest and – paradoxically – enigmatic songwriters; sounding at once warm and icy, intimate and distant, uniquely personal and frequently relatable. Anyone who’s seen her perform in a backyard, loungeroom, bar or – more recently – on Community tv, won’t soon have forgotten the experience. It’s partly the mystery and contradictions that make “Small Discomforts” so compelling, but moreover it’s the genius melody-weaving and insightful, elegant wordsmithy that make this debut EP on local DIY label Workplace Safety CDRs such a crucial listen.
‘Slug’ opens with a momentary inhalation quickly swallowed by cavernous electric guitar twang – gently bending minor chords billowing like slow-motion Morricone over a half-lit Northbridge porch. The riff proves not only to be the song’s opening statement, but in fact its sole backdrop motif, a hypnotic pedal as unhurried as the titular gastropod. Vocals slink in, husky, hushed but not whispered, the opening contemplation striking a fundamental chord: “would it were that I could be / somewhere outside of me.” The tune unfolds haunting, bemoaning the limitations of the body, the inevitable need to “stop and slow” – though ultimately packs the punch of that other kind of slug. It bleeds serenely into ‘The Martyred Bro,’ which also boasts a quiet ember-like potency, but is fuzzier, snarlier, more brutal. Lyrics like “sign yourself up for a war / drive your car into a wall” simmer over subtly distorted 6/8 guitar wanderings, forging a bitter lament for the anonymous but immediately dislikable “bro” at hand.
“Moebius Stripper” (early frontrunner for song title of the year) opens with single-note quavers that sound more indebted to the punk canon than its folkier predecessors, but contrary to cliché, no rhythm section joins in, leaving Laurel’s trademark Hannah Montana guitar sounding viscerally lonely. The lyrics here deal headlong with a subject that often feels too close to home/cringe-inducing to broach – social media confessions, contrivances, interactions and anxieties – and does it without sounding self-consciously topical or of its time. It’s both direct and poetic, striking a balance that few can muster; this is probably the best song about Facebook I’ve ever heard, delivered with a bracing honesty that’s so often lacking in the digital realm.
‘O, Chubby Boys’ ups the pace and the cheer, even if the minimal vocal-guitar combo abides with its floating, isolated sensibility. The track is a fitting counterpoint to the first three, rolling along with a streamlined momentum, relaying a house party and the allure of the rosy-cheeked boys who “fill out their t-shirts.” It’s rich with winking wit and forward flirting, and if there’s been a better subversion of the standard pop-love-song chorus in Perth lately, I haven’t heard it.
The momentum and carefree conversational mood continues to grow with ‘Entry Level,’ which opens with a jocular song-sketch admitting to maybe being a “snobby bitch” but, infinitely worse, the 2nd-person protagonist is “boring” (x3). The tune vanishes quickly, and we’re left with a couple of minutes of silence.
Sound returns with a lo-fi “secret track” that seems nostalgic in format alone, harking back to a generally outmoded ’90s album trope (I seem to recall a “secret track” on most of my cherished pop punk CDs during adolescence). But the tune – in which lyrics are, for the first time, hard to distinguish – sounds oblique enough to add an ambiguous, complexified spin to the record as it reaches its close. It’s almost as if the direct yet pseudonymous Laurel Fixation is tripping you up on the way out: hold up with your conclusions, and no, these songs aren’t simple resolutions to anything.
“Small Discomforts” touches on a lot – the frustrations of the physical, distate for aspects of mainstream culture, celebration of the routinely sidelined and ambivalence about internet culture – without seeming to overreach or feel distractible. On the contrary, LF’s sound and affect is singular and consistent, and ultimately restrained. As much as has been put on the table, this EP still clocks up a shorter running time than your average set at a local gig, and you can’t help but want more.
Luckily, there’s no intimation that these songs are borne of anything less than a deeply considered, sustainable, timeless process. You get the sense that there’s plenty more to come.