Album review: Terra Firma by Tash Sultana
After teasing fans since last April by slowly releasing singles Pretty Lady, Greed, Beyond the Pine, followed by Willow Tree and Sweet & Dandy, alternative artist Tash Sultana has released their highly anticipated album Terra Firma.
With an intra-genre sound that can loosely be described as a blend of psychedelic rock, alternative rock, reggae, and lo-fi, the Melbourne artist is often described as a one-person band. Their process involves recording loops of guitars, bases, and drums, and the occasional trumpet, then adding vocals on top.
The album opens with dreamy instrumental track ‘Musk’ which carries the listener into the Tash Sultana universe, inviting them to light some incense and escape into their minds.
Up to this point, Sultana’s music has relied on their strongest instrument, the guitar. In this they were walking a thin line between being recognizable and risking that their songs blend into each other. Terra Firma shows that they are ready to evolve as an artist: two songs introduce a welcome new tone that fills the gaps between the strings: the piano. The jazzy piano riffs in Crop Circles complement the groovy trumpet while the melancholic melody of Maybe You’ve Changed rests on a soft bed of piano chords.
In Sweet & Dandy, Sultana expresses their need to break away from the constraints of society, singing: “I don’t watch the TV late at night, cause there’s no knowledge only information”. The song also depicts the freedom of their gender non-binary identity, with the lyric: “I don’t have to be defined by the sexes, oh, and I don’t have to get down with none of that bullshit XY’s and X’s, no”.
Sultana has opened up in interviews about the drug-induced psychosis they suffered at age 18, and the way writing music now serves as their creative therapeutic escape. When performing live or on a radio show, Sultana’s melodies are predominantly improvised, as they bask in the present moment and follow the notes wherever the music takes them.
Pretty Lady is by far the catchiest song on the album and will leave you singing over and over: “pretty lady, where you going so fast? Try to make our moment last, oh come and take my hand, why don’t you?” When the single was released, thousands of fans around the world participated in the Pretty Lady Challenge by filming themselves doing the song’s signature dance. Their videos now make up the song’s music video on YouTube.
The closing song I Am Free is a rejection of societal expectations and a proclamation of agency, with the lyrics, “I don’t really like to fight these chains” and “like the apple tree, knowledge is your wealth if you were hungry.”
Terra Firma is a journey through the troubles of balancing life and love with the yearning for freedom. Sultana captures the intricacies of worldly obligations and manages to lead the listener through the chaotic universe and back, grounding them into the natural Earth.