The real attraction to a Miller-Heidke release lies in the pleasure given by her voice. She may sing about love and life and engage in some interesting wordplay, but her distinctive vocals and range merit the bulk of attention.
Kate Miller-Heidke’s latest release, her first on her own label, provides more evidence that major record companies are obsolete. Like the Aussie’s first three solo albums, the production is clear and crisp. One would not know this was an independent release by its sound. Miller-Heidke continues to experiment in terms of song contents, musical styles, and vocal delivery. While O Vertigo! may be different than previous discs, her other albums were all distinct from each other with strangely mad and adventurous material mixed in with more operatic and staid sounds. O Vertigo! fits right in with the progression of her as a singer songwriter.
The funding for the new album came from PledgeMusic. Miller-Heidke asked fans to contribute money towards recording costs in exchange for rewards such as having her phone people and singing “Happy Birthday” and putting the names of fans in her liner notes. She reached 100 percent of her target in three days and will donate five percent of the total to the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) efforts to preserve the Great Barrier Reef.
As the album’s title suggests, O Vertigo! is purposely disorienting. The professed reason for this on the title song is that she gets carried away by love. That may be true, but the evidence suggests she just likes getting transported for the thrill of it. Musically, that means everything from overly syncopating lines and letting her voice glide up and down the registers to holding notes operatically for long lengths of time without taking a breath. It’s always showy, and it is an effective way of expressing emotions. But she doesn’t take love that seriously. Miller-Heidke pokes fun at herself. “I swear / I’m gonna lose my shit” she sings on “Lose My Shit”. The joy of love makes her dizzy, but it does not make her somber. She sounds happy here and on the other cuts on the album.
Relatedly, she undercuts the more dramatic songs, such as the appropriately named “Drama”, with a sense of humor. Miller-Heidke knows she has no great pronouncements to launch, only a very interesting voice with a big range and a willingness to be creative and take chances. She mocks herself because she understands her limits. Miller-Heidke uses her talents as a way of connecting to others. When she offers more serious topics, she sings plainly, such as on the “Rock This Baby to Sleep”. Miller-Heidke engages in vocal tricks with tape looping and hitting high notes for much for much of the track, but she sings the mess clearly, “If I can’t have what I want / Dear god let me want what I have”. It’s a deep thought compared with the others on the record and is given weight as a result.
The real attraction to a Miller-Heidke release lies in the pleasure given by her voice. She may sing about love and life and engage in some interesting wordplay, but her distinctive vocals and range merit the bulk of attention. She clearly has the chops to sing pop—but she’s not willing to settle for playing it straight. The material on and the implications of O Vertigo! suggest that’s the opposite of where she is at.