Byron Bay’s Studios 301 is a veteran location for recording an album. It is Australia’s longest running and largest studio of its kind, having played host to a mammoth repertoire of international musicians including Elton John, Kanye West and Matt Corby. And one of the most recent additions to their affluent list is Queensland singer-songwriter Sahara Beck, who has just recorded her second full length LP Panacea there, at only 19 years old. Her 10-track album takes you on an experimental journey “from jazz and soul to glitchy beats”, also toying with influences of country and blues, all wrapped up in a formulaic pop framework.
Panacea listens as an explosion of capabilities. From the very first song and lead single Here It Comes, Beck shows off her prosperous range, overshadowing the enticements of the rippling bass with her impressive, yet (on occasion) bafflingly superfluous vocal display. There has not been a single crevice of space left on this album to cast even the slightest doubt over her competence, as every opportunity to ‘wow’ is grabbed with both hands. But although this display is remarkable, the most gripping moments on Panacea come with its more intimate entries. The stripped back, refined Sarah pulls you in with atmospheric, low maintenance percussion cushioned by Becks choral spiraling; Spinning Time is all about vocal control, of which Beck has in bucket loads, and paints over tinny guitar strumming.
Crack Bang Bang is a celebration of the singer’s country influences, her onomatopoeic lyrics tapping along with the rolling rhythm. Presenting as an amalgamation of St. Vincent’s funk and Janelle Monae’s sass, Tapping On The Roof is a definite foot tapper (pun intended), percussively imitating its title before coming to a sudden, arguably anti-climactic end. Similar is the end of the dreamy Ooh Lala, which finishes equally abruptly, leaving you wanting for one last “Ooh Lala”.
Beck’s songwriting abilities flourish on songs like the speculative Everyone Wants Noise, and the hard-hitting, instrumentally sparse Mother Mother that delivers as one of the albums most personal outtakes. The airy, subdued Don’t Hold Your Breath lulls the album out with Beck’s syrupy sweet voice engulfing the sporadic guitar. Just like the rest of the album, the vocals are the star of the show. But with a voice like Sahara Becks, it is hardly a crime, acting as a welcome cherry on top of every song. Some more understated material would not be undesirable, but the bells and the frills will certainly make Panacea one to remember.