Three years after the release of their debut album, Internal, and a month after that spell-binding performance of new single Resolution on Triple J’s ‘Like a Version’, the electronic-pop trio behind SAFIA are back with their second album, Story’s Start or End.
The album kicks off with Ivory Lullaby, a well-chosen name for this tranquil track. The audience is pulled into a trance the moment the soft piano notes are played and the vocals of Ben Woolner fill your ears. Once the signature electronic beats are skilfully woven into the song, you know you’ve lost the battle and are powerless against the swaying melody, the catchy lyrics and hypnotic harmonies. A perfect theme to keep you cosy during those winter days, to sway to whilst you study and to relax a restless mind at night.
To keep that beat going, track number two, Starlight, is up next. This is the first example of many that demonstrates how SAFIA has ingeniously created a diverse range of songs throughout the album. You can hear the similarities to the previous songs, but there’s new energy, a new element that makes the track sound fresh and unique. It deals with the idea of letting go with the chorus stating, “Give it all up my friend / Maybe we were never right back then / Baby give it up”.
The next track, Think We’re Not Alone changes the pace with an eerie synth beat, echoing vocals and interval samplings of lion growls and eagle screeches. It all amalgamates into an unnerving atmosphere that drops you in the middle of a dark forest with nothing but the unwanted thoughts creeping into your mind.
Think About You switches it up once again. Woolner’s vocals are on full display in this track, displaying the range he is capable of reaching, hitting drawn-out notes that would appease someone who loves to dramatically sing in the shower. It’s perhaps the simplest track of the whole album, which isn’t a negative reflection on the song per se; it demonstrates their ability to create an electronic-pop song that is serene and emotive.
Although the tracks thus far have created an endearing atmospheric tune, Resolution is an audible mountaineering adventure. The song takes you to the cliff’s base and, through blissful lyrics that continue the themes of letting go, slowly escalates your journey upwards. Then, with two feet planted on the mountain’s climactic peak, there’s an implosion of sound as the drumbeat kicks in. Although I love this version of the song, SAFIA performed the song on Triple J’s ‘Like A Version’ with an orchestra and it was absolutely beautiful.
Unlike the other tracks, White Lies immediately throws you into the song. It also strongly focuses on the idea of looking inward at ourselves and realising the ‘white lies’ that we tell ourselves. The lyrics are powerful, “No one wants to be left over / No one wants to face the force in their beliefs” and the message is impactful, “There’s something that we all forgot / Humanity”. With a great beat and an amazing guitar solo, this song packs a punch.
“Do you ever wonder?” is the first line of the next track, Better Off Alone, a song in a similar vein as Think About You. It, once again, portrays the capability of Woolner’s vocals to emote compassion that pulls you in. It’s a soft catchy tune, with a soothing synth sound, that will swirl around your mind.
Runaway and Animal At Most are the next tracks in the album, both of which are embedded with an array of unique elements. Runaway incorporates Indian influences with a staccato drumbeat that will pulse through your body. Animal At Most is a different shift from the rest of the album, a quicker pace with a dramatic shift in tone.
Next up is Vegabonds, Maybe You’ll Love Again, Cellophane Rainbow. Whilst the rest of the tracks have used autotune here or there, Vegabonds pushes that limit to a point that is almost excruciating. It’s not my personal favourite of the album, but there are still some decent moments in the song. That’s the case for the other two songs as well. Maybe You’ll Love Again could be described as a modern homage to late 2000’s electronica, where the border between electronica and pop started to become blurred. Cellophane Rainbow is an electro-psychedelia track, another innovative departure from the SAFIA’s familiar sound. These tracks appear to be the experimental portion of the album, where the band embraced their creative musing and transformed into music.
The final song, marking the end (or is it the start?) of the album, is the title track Story’s Start or End. This electronica dance-pop is the perfect conclusion to this fantastical album. The song is a celebration of the journey that this album had taken us, a final rendezvous where we gather together and party the night away. It’s a signature SAFIA club beat that is guaranteed to get the crowd up and grooving.
The beauty of this album is how truly diverse and innovative it is. No two tracks sound the same, although there are familiar motifs that run throughout. Each track has its own unique elements, a feat that can only arise from artists that have become attuned to the finer details of music composition. In their debut album, Internal, SAFIA established themselves as an electronica group on the rise, demonstrating what they were capable of and what is yet to come. In this one, they’ve broadened the scope, the talent and the impact, creating something that will impress and surprise the masses. Although some of the songs are formulaic—and could be leaning towards the pop/commercial-friendly side—for an album that centres around the theme of letting go, it will be difficult to let go of any of these songs any time soon.
Story’s Start Or End is out now.