Album Review: Olympia – Self Talk

Published On April 23, 2016 | By Christopher Bohlsen | Albums, Music

As the line between indie music and pop fade more and more, innumerable musical oddities are bound to arise. Take, for example, Smoke Signals, the breakout single from Olympia’s Self Talk. The track is set to a grooving bassline and hypnotic drums, with something that sounds almost like a sitar circling underneath the beat. It’s kooky, but distinctly pop, and Olympia’s vocal line in the chorus is one of the catchiest of the year. However, in the bridge of the track, there’s a noise and abrasive guitar solo that sets the song firmly in rock territory. Mixing pop, rock, and even blues (on Honey), Self Talk is a confident and exciting debut album.

Olympia Self TalkHoney lays out the instrumental ingredients for the album: distorted soul organs, crunchy basslines, laid-back drums, jangly guitar, and Olympia’s restrained voice. The track is smooth like butter, melding soulful balladry with blues crunch, and the melodies are emotional and warm. Warmth is a consistent feeling the album evokes, such as in the pulsating keyboards of Different Cities. The track is another ballad, something Olympia proves herself a master of on the record. However, the swampy guitars in the chorus prevent the track from descending into mawkishness, and it is a nice breather after the glittery pop of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (which resembles a more energetic Chromatics song), and before the guitar driven Somewhere To Disappear.

Somewhere To Disappear is perhaps the biggest misstep on the album. Whilst the track itself is fine (if unremarkable), the clean, acoustic strumming that opens it stands in stark contrast to the fuzzy, warmly distorted sound of the rest of the album. The sound is too clean, and it feels artificial in Self Talk’s environment. The title track is a great piece of brooding, new-wave revival pop, and feels a natural fit for the bright colours and 80’s pop signifiers of Self Talk (especially it’s very blue cover art). Blue Light Disco exists in the light of an after-party, as Olympia sings of regret – “you got caught up in theme songs” – over sombre pianos and synth pads. The album’s greatest achievement is its ability to create atmosphere, and a distinct universe for Olympia’s characters to exist in.

Even if the album weren’t as atmospheric as it is, it would be able to get by on the strength of its melodies. Each of the singles (Honey, Smoke Signals, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things) deserves to be a hit song in its own right, and the emotionality Olympia manages to infuse into her ballads is palpable, but never overbearing. That restraint from over-emoting, and producer Burke Reid’s willingness to maintain a sonic world (Somewhere To Disappear notwithstanding) are the albums greatest assets, and Olympia’s sophomore album should be one to look forward to.

4 / 5 stars     

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