Folktronica singer-songwriter Sophie Payten – a.k.a. Gordi – reveals strength through vulnerability on her revelatory and triumphant sophomore album, ‘Our Two Skins’.
Trained as doctor and growing up in Catholic household, Sophie Payten, the artist behind Gordi, was taught to set aside her self-interest to serve the greater good. This sacrifice also meant ignoring her own pain and hiding her true self behind a surgical mask, the teachings of the Bible, and within an unrewarding relationship. Like every human being, however, Payten had her limits. The person buried beneath the steely personality was screaming to come out. In the midst of Australia’s nation-wide debate on same-sex marriage, she unlocked herself and began a journey of self-discovery – or rediscovery. Three years later, her emotional and introspective sophomore album, Our Two Skins, reveals her experiences.
The native of small town Canowindra wastes little time to bare her soul. The beautiful opener “Aeroplane Bathroom” is a sparse yet simple song, but its effect is powerful. Through a sparse piano paired with a hushed synth, Payten’s voice aches with each word, as she attempts to resolve the conflict eating away at her. She immediately asks herself, “Do you see yourself / Do you see yourself unraveling?” As anxiety and an identity crisis consume her, she tells herself to get her “shit together / In this aeroplane bathroom / I’m wondering why I have never seen myself before”.
Her journey is littered with highs and lows. The slow-building cinema of “Hate The World” describes Payten incrementally taking control of her fate. She tells herself, “I will persevere until it hurts”, knowing she will encounter obstacles on the road ahead. This includes in the images she sees on television and in the eyes of her parents, as she eloquently articulates on the solemn “Look Like You”.
Even in love she experiences pain and confusion, as if others were defining her life. Through a sombre piano-driven melody, Payten sings on “Radiator” about a love she could not reciprocate. She openly testifies to her partner, “I had to love you”. On the stirring, folktronica number, “Limits”, Payten further untangles her internal puzzle, singing with a stunning vulnerability:
“You gave me confusion and unopened prize
Unwrapped my delusions, revealed my disguise
Oh way past the limit, tour hand on the trigger
I pushed and I pulled until nothing felt bigger than this”
Her anxiety, disillusionment, and confusion come to a head on the sensational “Volcanic”. Though a light orchestration featuring synths, keys, and percolating percussion, Payten reaches her life-changing moment. It’s not an epiphany, but rather this is Payten starting to shed her skin for everyone, including her parents, to see.
“I have these moments where I panic
When I shut down and go manic
So eruptive and destructive like within I am volcanic
I’ve a head that won’t stop aching
And a voice that’s tired of breaking
And I’ll snap myself right up and tell you what it’s all about
If I knew.”
Eventually, the Sophie Payten is revealed. The widescreen and euphoric “Unready” is the small-town woman emerging from the shadows that have covered her for too long. She shares that she is finally “listening to a voice I know / Said take me down another way“. An uneasiness, however, remains, as she admits that “I was always ready but unready for what this might do”. It’s not until the awe-inspiring and radiant “Extraordinary Life” that Payten celebrates who she is and what love – for oneself and each other – can achieve. The song’s beautifully melodic approach coupled with Payten’s calming vocals are like a big, warm hug. It’s a song that she needed to hear for herself, and one the world could use at this moment.
Speaking of extraordinary lives, Gordi includes two versions of “Sandwiches” on the album. The track is dedicated to her grandmother, who was “a great feeder of people” according to Payten. Featuring a steady guitar, feathery rhythms, and the ever slight presence of keys, the melody and her lyrics are smile-inducing. The song is a reminder that we can still find inspiration and strength even in the most humblest of meals and in the most humblest of humans. For Payten, these lessons took a lifetime to discover and understand. And as her songs on Our Two Skins reveal, one can still be strong when vulnerable. That revealing one’s soul can not only be therapeutic but it can inspire others.
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