Psychedelic music can take many forms, and for Grace Cuell it’s a means of communing with heady cosmic imagery and reaching out for personal connection at the same time. Those twin themes loom large on her solo debut album as Baby Cool, which she made while moonlighting from her role co-fronting retro-minded Brisbane ensemble Nice Biscuit.
In fact, Baby Cool mines a similar strain of hazy psych-pop as Nice Biscuit. Cuell is even backed by her Nice Biscuit bandmates Nick Cavendish (bass) and Drew Heyden (keys), along with The Flamingo Jones’ Jess Ferronato (drums). The key difference – besides the absence of Nice Biscuit co-leader Billie Star – is the focus here on Cuell’s mantra-like musings.
On ‘Magic’, she delivers her lyrics like an incantation, repeating “Magic, love / Sent in from up above” until the words seem to mirror the song’s wobbly, sun-baked groove. There’s a transportive quality to that and other tunes, and Cuell’s wispy, drowsy vocals feel like one more layer of gossamer instrumentation on reveries like ‘Mother Luna’ and ‘Poison’.
Cuell calls these songs “deeply sentimental”, describing them as a way to “make sense of this earthly pod”. And so we’re granted direct access to her unique angle on the world around her. Rather than serenade Brisbane’s bountiful beaches in the on-trend style of a slacker punk band, she takes an approach that’s halfway between trippy yesteryear poetry and saturated cinematic nostalgia like The Love Witch. “The sea is a chalice of unconditional love,” she sings on opener ‘The Sea’, before adding, “This body is the home you’ve been searching for.”
That might sound almost twee on paper, but even Baby Cool’s brightest and most twinkling melodies are slowed down and subtly warped to the point where they take on an askew, even ominous edge. When Cuell repeats the simple but hopeful phrase “life is but a daydream” on the closer ‘Daydream’, syrupy pedal steel and billowing distortion give the sentiment extra weight.
Produced by Sam Joseph from the coastal New South Wales act Family Jordan, ‘Earthling on the Road to Self Love’ suffers a little for its sonic similarities to Cuell’s other band. The record also fairly low-impact, although that’s seemingly by design: These songs are more likely to pleasantly creep into your consciousness rather than hit you over the head at first pass.
But it’s a promising start, as well as a clear crystallisation of Cuell’s vision. And in the charming outlier ‘Country Song’, there’s a hint of other directions she might take from here – while still spinning cosmic lullabies that echo her own inner worlds.
- Release date: February 10
- Record label: Virgin Music Australia