Love rarely exists in the here and now for Geoffrey O’Connor. Instead it looms out of reach, a ghostly abstraction signalling either a squandered past or elusive future. At least, that’s the sensation the Melbourne songwriter cultivates across his third solo album – and first in seven years – as he sings about love primarily in the service of wistful remembrance or romantic resignation.
That feeling of being an outsider in the game of love isn’t entirely new for O’Connor, who cut a fairly bashful figure leading jangle-pop ensemble The Crayon Fields before pivoting to moody solo records steeped in vaporous synthesisers. Still, his previous solo outings were more devotional by comparison, older songs like ‘Whatever Leads Me To You’ and ‘Never Have You Looked So Good’ more gentle come-ons than inevitable laments.
What’s more surprising is that O’Connor has made a duets album about personal isolation. Even when singing closely with 10 other vocalists, he drapes these songs in elegant disaffection. On the title track, HTRK’s Jonnine Standish delivers her usual deadpan smoulder while the lyrics detail specific years now rendered only in fading recollection. On ‘What A Scene’, featuring Sui Zhen, O’Connor opens the song with a poignant image of “the naked dead actors on your laptop screen”.
However his light, dreamy singing interacts with his guests, O’Connor handles the production and nearly all of the instrumentation, favouring languorous soft-rock motifs like prowling bass lines and echoing finger snaps. The only guest instrumentalists are Hank Clifton-Williamson, whose delicate flute parts culminate in a scene-stealing solo on ‘Catwalk’, and Donny Benét, whose fretless bass makes ‘Foolish Enough’ the funkiest track here. That song, featuring fellow synth-pop devotee Laura Jean, proves charmingly self-aware, describing the spending of “your father’s money” as a victimless crime; the music video, which O’Connor directed, has him doing more of those abundant finger snaps in the back of a garish limo.
Sarah Mary Chadwick lends mournful gravity to back-to-back songs in the album’s middle, first against the wonky synths of ‘Strange Feeling’ and then the threadlike acoustic guitar of the eerie ballad ‘Precious Memories’. June Jones commits her deeper, dramatic voice to the world-weary grievances of ‘Tired Of Winning’, while a smoky Jess Ribeiro mocks the fondness that O’Connor’s character maintains for both his “corporate job” and “low-rent hotels” on ‘Tunnel Of Love’. Named after the cult film star best known for her role in The Shining, ‘Shelley Duvall’ conjures sumptuous retro airs via streaky synths and Nicole Thibault’s breathy sighs.
Though these songs are cut very much from the same cloth, each one has enough individual appeal to distinguish it from the rest – not just in the specific guest singer but in the nuanced lyrical flourishes. And if the overall recurring themes sometimes feel one-note, there’s an enjoyable archness to these longing reveries that hews much closer to the stylised ennui of The Magnetic Fields or Molly Nilsson than to your average earnest ballads about dwindling passion.
On the closing ‘Love Is Your Best Friend’, featuring Summer Flake’s Stephanie Crase in appropriately slow-burn mode, O’Connor even inches towards cautious optimism against a ripe background of synth sparkles that evoke Goblin’s delirious score for the original Suspiria movie. O’Connor imagines love comforting someone through lonely moments, providing support even when one’s calendar is “dateless” and the internet feels populated solely by strangers. Whether in a sticky-carpeted liquor store or over endless video games at home, it’s there for you.
After an entire album circling romance from a notable remove, O’Connor’s hopeful refrain about how “love is your best friend” feels like a breakthrough. For a gorgeous moment, we almost believe him.
- Release date: August 6
- Record label: Chapter Music