It’s been a long five years since Australian singer-songwriter Andy Bull’s last album, We’re Too Young. But the highly anticipated release of Sea of Approval has been well worth the wait. His latest record is a cinematic exploration of personal themes such as anxiety, identity and self-worth, facilitated by uninhibited lyrical content, crystalline synths, buoyant beats, perfect pop melodies, and flawless production.
Opening the album is the RnB influenced track Just One Expression, Just One Line, in which Bull’s renowned, beautiful falsetto hovers above a cacophony of jarring beats and high-pitched sound effects. It leads us into the musically heavier, soul-flavoured Baby I am Nobody Now – a pensive attempt at dealing with conflicted feelings of superiority and irrelevance post break-up: I could be one in a million baby / but I’m nobody now… baby I am ten out of ten / baby I’m once in a lifetime. Bull maintains this marriage of broody lyrics and more upbeat musical accompaniment in tracks Nothing is Wrong, Talk Too Much and Loved Like You, while the influence of 80s pop and electronica is most obvious in 100 Ways, sounding like it could have been lifted from the soundtrack to an alternative reworking of a John Hughes film.
Something I Guess, a track that takes us back to the bare basics of Andy Bull’s pop writing, effectively disrupts the ambitious theatrics of the album as a whole. Bull’s meticulous ear for melody is really showcased here, heard above ethereal synths and really interesting harmonic choices that create unexpected points of interest for the listener.
However, it’s the lead single that most successfully combines Bull’s penchant for great, simple, catchy, pop writing and really effectively layered production. Keep On Running is the climax of the album, and as such the album’s title is echoed in the opening line “I’ll swim in a sea of approval, I will.” In this track, Bull navigates all the main themes of the album – uncertainty, anxiety, insecurity, attempts at self validation and appealing to the multitude whilst retaining autonomy: tell me how I / I should have done it. The closing track is also emblematic of the themes of Sea of Approval, however, Bull creates a more optimistic atmosphere with more aggressively self-assured lyrics: Even if I come to hurt you / I deserve you, not somebody else… / I can prove that I deserve you. So That I can Feel Better is a resolute but positive ending to an album immersed in broody self-discovery.
No song on Sea of Approval feels out of place, and perhaps that’s why Andy Bull chose only to include ten tracks. They are all sonically tied together under a single, cinematic arc by impeccable melodies, pop sensibilities, immaculate production and that soulful voice.