Gordi's debut seamlessly blends epic electronic soundscape with intimacy in lyricism and folk sensibilities, even if it pulls a little too often from Justin Vernon’s toolkit.
Growing up in the rural town of Canowindra, Australia, Sophie Payten (AKA Gordi) came to love the beautiful vastness of her home. However, spending her schooling at boarding schools and living in busy dorm rooms instilled a need to appreciate intimate spaces where she introspectively turned to guitar and pen. These two settings from Gordi’s upbringing have worked together to inform her sound, a brand of folktronica akin to the likes of Bon Iver and Asgeir.
After releasing her first EP Clever Disguise last year to a welcome reception, Gordi is making her LP debut with Reservoir, a place where Payten is able to float in the emotions, thoughts, and relationships that swim in her mind, and express them through well-crafted compositions created with help from the likes of Tim Anderson (Banks, Halsey) and Alex Somers (Sigur Rós, Jonsi & Alex). It’s a debut that seamlessly blends epic electronic soundscape with intimacy in lyricism and folk sensibilities, even if it pulls a little too often from Justin Vernon’s toolkit.
The creaking wood and murky, watery effects that begin opening track “Long Way” evoke images of diving into the reservoir Gordi has created as she longs to “Open up with somebody who let you in.” The song is a deep breath, as if beginning to tell a long story, taken to calm the anxieties of relationships and friendships, loneliness and loss, turmoil and longing that are unpacked in the songs to come.
Gordi mirrors the struggles of these emotions with beautifully dynamic orchestrations from beginning to end. Like most of the tracks, “All the Light We Cannot See” is a slow burner, beginning with sparse percussion and droning pads that move into an intimate interlude that elegantly layers vocal riffs (demo sketches, really) before building to explosive snare shots that blast the song into space.
Though many of the songs have this slow-build aesthetic to them, it never feels worn out as each track carries enough distinguishing qualities -- whether it be a change in tempo, unique textures, or just lyrical prowess -- carrying the song. Of the 11 tracks present, none of them feel like filler, and the inter-song transitions keep the listener immersed through its entirety.
Gordi also manages to achieve excellent pacing here as the album’s peak comes about halfway through on the epitomizing track “Heaven I Know”. Written about a friendship rather than a romantic relationship, the song dwells on the hardships of remaining close with a good friend after moving away. The whispered “One, two, three” throughout the song creates an anxious feeling of time ticking away as Gordi’s sparse vocals and intimate piano playing represent the distance and difficulty of such friendships. The apt use of vocoder late in the song also suggests the coldness that one begins to feel the further distanced you become.
This track also serves as a good example of the obvious love Gordi has for Bon Iver, especially last year’s 22, A Million. In fact, Gordi sang background vocals for Vernon on The Tonight Show when they performed “8 (circle)”. And last year, she released an a capella cover of “00000 Million”. The influence shows not only in the general folktronica vibe, but more specifically with the use of horn arrangements, vocoders, heavy vocal layering, and glitchy vocal samples. Sean Carry from Bon Iver even makes an appearance on the acoustically-driven “I’m Done”. It all sounds fantastic and well-placed here. But there is definitely room for innovation in the future.
However borrowed these elements may be, it’s futile to reject the fact that they’re captivating. The Alex Somers-produced track “Aeon” perhaps best captures the Sigur Rós-esque expansiveness and experimentalism of these tracks as Payten questions a relationship: “But what’s it worth if I can’t listen / What’s it worth if you don’t try and understand.” The follow up “Can We Work It Out”, a leftover from last year’s Clever Disguise, displays Gordi’s best pop qualities as she longs to continue a relationship, deciding, “Every fiber of my being’s agreed / That what you want can become something you need.”
As the album comes to a close on “Something Like This”, Payten comes to realize “It was harder then than now to understand / How to bleed until you’re empty / How to open what is full.” It would be fair to say that perhaps she is still trying to understand how to open up, as oftentimes the lyricism and themes, although relatable and poetic, are somewhat cryptic and ambiguous. However, what Gordi has accomplished here is absolutely a successful debut full of honest feeling, introspection, and self-therapy all through beautifully-composed folktronic landscapes that are sure to mesmerize.