If there was ever an It Girl of the Australian indie scene, an unwanted accolade for certain, nobody could touch Geelong-born Adalita Srsen. Close to 20 years fronting guitar-noise stalwarts Magic Dirt, Adalita has played the epitome of the forceful/not-to-be-fucked-with frontwoman that underneath reveals a dedicated and highly respected artist. You don’t stick in a mid-level/cult following band for that long without the cold realisation that making and performing music is only thing you know how to do well.
Magic Dirt always appeared the perfect vehicle to carry her work, but it often gave cause to question what kind of music would Adalita make without that same support system. Appearing late last year, the Hot Air EP showed a marked reversal from the scream n’ shout of the Dirt, pursuing a stripped back approach, full of mood and texture. When Webcuts spoke with Adalita in July of 2009 about the then unfinished record, Adalita summed it up as thus — “…I want to keep it pretty minimal. I think it will be bolder in that way to just have guitar and vocals”.
Her intentions remained true with Adalita. Taking such vanguard icons like Patti Smith and PJ Harvey as an influence, Adalita has created a starkly personal and raw sounding album, full of songs that require little more than a solitary voice matched with a lone instrument to carry its message. For the balls-out (figuratively) rocker, it’s a step in an entirely new direction. In the near-7 minute opener “Hot Air”, a looped two chord riff and a simple ensnaring melody gently eases into the drifting pensive/purposeful mood of Adalita . It’s a brave move to place the second longest track first, but it shows confidence in the direction she’s taken.
It would be difficult to imagine that any artist from Melbourne hasn’t at one time been influenced by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, which would explain Adalita’s love lament “Perfection” sailing close to the Bad Seed’s own “The Ship Song”. With the arrival of violin towards the end, The Dirty Three are suddenly arrive in the mix, while offering up one of the album’s most beautiful moments. It isn’t entirely Adalita’s show alone, with Melbourne musician JP Shilo and singer-songwriter Amaya Laurcirica drafted in to add presence and texture, the latter adding her vocals to the country twang of “Good Girl”.
If you were to pair her album with any other solo artist’s debut album, it would sit more closely in style with PJ Harvey’s bleak and brittle Dry, barring the odd The Gun Club moment found in the bluesy stomp of “Jewel Thief” or in Shilo’s slide guitar on closer “Night Orchid”. Its an album not without its faults, but these would be more down with the decision to create an environment that feels so airless and heavy. Stark needn’t feel so absent of colour and light, but given the circumstances in which it was written and recorded, happy-go-lucky may have to be held over for the next album.