The past 24 months have been a whirlwind for Sophie Payten, who goes by the alias Gordi. She rocketed to Triple-J fame with her cover of Courtney Barnett’s hit, “Avant Gardener”, and her debut EP, Clever Disguise, was a critical darling. She toured internationally solo and occasionally as part of Justin Vernon’s/Bon Iver’s band. Within this busy schedule, Payten completed her studies in medicine. It seems fitting that the 24-year-old artist from Canowindra (an area west of the beautiful Blue Mountains region of New South Wales) would pursue a career in helping the sick and wounded because her moving voice and intimate songs possess their own healing characteristics. Her debut full-length, Reservoir, encapsulates the power of her music.
With eleven songs that clock in at nearly 50 minutes, Reservoir is completely enchanting. The folktronica sound will lead to immediate comparison to Bon Iver, though Payten’s approach is even more minimalist and arguably dreamier, which allows her beautiful vocals and her intimate stories to shine. The cool and languid opener, “Long Way”, welcomes us into Gordi’s soothing world. As her soft voice glides through the sparse electronic arrangements, she takes us to a time when we were most vulnerable and when ignorance was bliss.
“Open up with somebody who let you in
Can it possibly be enough if you tell them where to begin?
I know I’ll owe nothing, but neither can survive
So won’t you keep me alive?”
Euphoria strikes on the beautiful “All The Light We Cannot See” with the addition of strings and Payten’s message of resilience. The arrangements are amped up a couple of notches on “On My Side”, a slow-building, stunning number that recalls Gang of Youths. And like the Sydney-based giants, Gordi turns an experience of separation and loss into a moving proclamation of unity.
“Bitter End” is the one song that most strongly resembles Justin Vernon. The chest-swelling choral arrangements and the soaring harmonies create an an environment where only dreams exist. In some ways, the song is a dream, as its story focuses on one’s final days and the wish to see the last hours go by peacefully. With the support of label mate and former Bon Iver member S. Carey, “I’m Done” recalls simpler times when acoustic folk numbers were the standard by which singer-songwriters were measured. Despite the rapturous melodies and the gorgeous interplay between the two singers, the song is the realization by one person that a close relationship has come to an end. It’s an incredibly stunning, pensive number and among the album’s bests.
Gordi channels her inner diva on the breathtaking “Aeon”. The song is the most expansive of the LP, as the strings and electronic arrangements are intensified. The result is a song that feels more like a piece of grand cinema. Despite the fuller sound and escalating drama, an urgency and desperation remains.
“But what’s it worth if I can’t listen?
What’s it worth if you don’t try and understand?
So what if I just fell a little deeper?
For now at least try to understand.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a Tori Amos simplicity is heard on the endearing “Better Than Then, Closer To Now”, as it recalls Payten’s time of listening to classics by Carole King, Billy Joel, and James Taylor. Simplicity also reigns on “Heaven I Know”, the album’s most awe-inspiring and engrossing number. The song is like an evening spent beside an open fire. It is warm and hypnotic, and despite its peaceful flicker it burns with an intensity that is felt right to your bones. Payten’s voice is cool, calm, and spectacular, as she looks deep into her past and all those she’s left behind.
The one song that best encompasses Gordi’s stunning arrangements and curative abilities is “Can We Work It Out”. Her cool vocals cut through the electronic, synth, and percussive flourishes, exposing her broken heart for the world to see. While the song is introspective, her story and pain are also ours.
“Won’t you just open your eyes?
And see that we are failing at our clever disguise
Can you pick a point that we can choose to rewind to
Or know there’s better days ahead than behind you
Cause I can’t see anything ahead of me now.”
Although the future is unpredictable and the days ahead are murky at best, one thing is clear: Gordi has firmly established herself as one of Australia’s brightest young stars with Reservoir. It is warm and intimate during its most tender moments, and sheer bliss at its most symphonic peaks. It’s the type of album that you can escape within to get away from the chaos, pain, and turmoil around you. Within a little less than an hour, Payten heals our deepest wounds. Not many records have such therapeutic qualities.
Reservoir is out now via Jagjaguwar on Gordi’s Bandcamp page. She is currently touring with Gang of Youths until early September before heading to Europe for a handful of dates. She will then headline her own Australia tour in late November and early December. Tour dates are available here.
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