skybelly - vella (Album Review)

Melburnian psychedelic rock band Skybelly sound like they're playing from a dive bar somewhere in the multi-verse. The group is fronted by artist Sara Nelson, a highly expressive singer with a flair for adding colour to her already flavourful songs with peculiar vocal deliveries and personifications. The project's sophomore album, vella, was inspired by Nelson's desire to "explore her feminine nature". The artist has stated that she "wanted to be a wolfhound, to levitate, to split my humanity into a universal howl". This sense of freedom and expression is omnipresent and contagious while listening to the album's ten tracks, which, for better or worse, forgo easy accessibility for unfiltered expressionism delivered in a unique and well-executed cocktail of grunge and psychedelia. 

Nelson's songs are fleshed out by guitarist Tarryn Benson-Smith, bassist Christine Yannopoulos, and drummer Dan Hambrook. Each member lends a hand without stepping on any toes. Nelson's songs are given space to percolate, often boiling over with intensity before simmering down to gentle intimacies. 

Nelson is equally a poet as a singer on vella, and when she practices seductive Sprechgesang, she displays a poet who knows how to use language to shock. Like on "queen of death" where she enthrals with lines like "I rode him like a high-class whore" and images of "a stiletto heel in the neck of a black dog". Elsewhere, the powerful paganistic imagery of "vervain" delights with noun-rich stream-of-consciousness-lyrics like "birdshit on a windowsill" and "sunbeams on gumtrees." She's not always so esoteric. For example, the bar-fight energy of "eyeliner" and "& it all falls down" are wildly ambitious and ambitiously wild. Then there's the oddity of the title track, which utilises strange textures, tempos, and vocal production to create a sometimes dodgy imagined soundtrack to the 1999 movie Two Hands.

Crucially, what works about vella is that Nelson is a likeable frontperson, the type of singer you root for. Even if sometimes they hit some bum notes or their lyrics are too vague or creepy, at least it's genuine. Whether making allusions to being a "bad bitch queen" or spouting out a wonderfully inventive free verse, Nelson mixes modern pop intentions with grungier, dirtier musical sentiments. For example, the primal scream wails on the dynamically powerful "horrorshow" are counterbalanced with sultry, up-close-and-personal vocals. 

vella is an intoxicating listening experience which bridges its epic moments of psychedelic rock and devil-horn grunge with elements of cerebrally impactful radio drama to create a unique and comprehensive album of complexity and depth.