Liz Stringer is one of Australian music’s best-kept secrets. This is not by design: Peers like Jen Cloher and Mia Dyson – who worked with her on the collaborative songwriting project Dyson Stringer Cloher – and Midnight Oil, who enlisted Stringer as a backing vocalist on their most recent Australian tour, have attempted to expose the veteran singer-songwriter to a wider audience.
For one reason or another, this adulation from fellow songwriters has not translated into widespread success on Stringer’s own accord. Put it this way: Liz Stringer has developed a cult following across her decade-plus in the industry, when she deserves her own megachurch.
Stringer has never shied away from introspection and honesty. Solo albums like the lovelorn alt-country of 2008’s ‘Pendulum’ and the refined folk-rock of 2016’s ‘All The Bridges’ offer tender and intimate confessionals, Stringer’s unmistakable smoky vocals adding a further emotional heft. Never before across her body of work, however, has she forged an album that feels as lived-in and as close to home as this. ‘First Time Really Feeling’, Stringer’s sixth LP, is a reflection on changing perspectives, newfound sobriety and all the roads travelled to get to where she is right now.
These themes come to life as soon as you press play on opening track and lead single ‘First Time Really Feeling’. The driving, six-minute track recalls the resplendent heartland rock of another veteran act’s breakthrough moment: The War On Drugs’ ‘Red Eyes’ from 2014. By that same token, however, it’s pure and unadulterated Stringer in its most intimate moments – her emoting of the titular phrase, the rise of her voice in tandem with a dynamic shift. Even the power of a phrase as simple as “don’t hurt me” becomes profound and resonant within her grasp.
‘First Time Really Feeling’ is the album’s clear standout moment, but Stringer’s work is far from done. ‘The Metrologist’ juxtaposes spiralling lyrical anguish with the sturdy, steady build of modern alt-country, painting a portrait of a lady on fire with a refined palette. Amid the crash of open hi-hats and a rising wall of guitars, she howls, “The negative shit in my head / Only drowns when I down a solid litre before bed.”
Elsewhere, ‘Dangerous’ showcases Stringer’s talent for immaculately detailed storytelling. Here, she sings of being one half of a couple that “fucked like they fought”, which leads to a separation and a broken family. “You were terrified of all the things I told you that you did,” she sings. “You didn’t understand the rage that could devour you.” ‘Dangerous’ was written from the standpoint of a woman Stringer met at one of her shows, but the conviction with which it’s executed makes one trust the song as autobiographical gospel.
From the rousing rock sounds of its full-band moments (‘Big City’) to the vulnerability laid bare in its more intimate passages (‘My History’, ‘The Things That I Now Know’), ‘First Time Really Feeling’ is uniform in its compelling nature and heart-wrenching honesty. Stringer and her makeshift band of Toronto session musicians first recorded these songs over three years ago, but none feels anachronistic when you hear them in 2021. There is an evergreen nature to Stringer’s songwriting, and on ‘First Time Really Feeling’, it’s in full bloom.
- Release date: April 30
- Record label: Milk! Records / Remote Control Records