Isolation suits Obscura Hail, a Melbourne trio that grew from the solo project of Wollongong native Sean Conran. Though Conran has developed his sound considerably since first releasing folk songs under that name in 2014, there’s a confiding intimacy to his current (and still self-produced) work such that listening to his music feels like leafing through personal journal entries.
Bundled with last year’s ‘Zero’ EP as a full-length vinyl record for physical release, ‘Siren’ offers another five songs to chart Conran’s growth as a songwriter and arranger. Still embracing the bedroom closeness of that early folk mode, he revels in the textural contrast between layers of fuzzed-out noise, melodic guitar twang, propulsive drum machine and leavening vocal harmonies. The result is lush, introspective indie rock in the spirit of Elliott Smith and Iron & Wine, both no strangers to bringing a bare-bones home-recording outlet to full flower.
‘Doomer’ opens the EP, awash in sloshing distortion, its tinny, ticking drum machine recall Death Cab For Cutie’s similarly homespun ‘Photobooth’. That’s a suitably turbulent backdrop for a song about feeling fatalistic: “I know I’m smart enough to get the bigger picture / Still I’m stuck in this godforsaken period drama,” Conran sings with palpable desperation, after calling himself out for his privilege and narcissism alike. The message isn’t that everything is hopeless: it’s to stop beating ourselves up over what we can’t change on our own. Which, of course, is something we all need to hear right now.
Another four songs like ‘Doomer’ would be welcome, but the following ‘Idle Hands’ surprises with its jaunty guitar strum and bassist Tamara Issa’s perky vocal harmonies, all the while grounded by drummer Kaelan Edmond. It turns out to be just the airy respite we need before diving into the openly autobiographical ‘Penumbra’, the EP’s emotional centrepiece.
Returning to drum machine, Conran shares a series of images from his youth, remembering the warmth of outmoded technology like “taking selfies on my Game Boy camera” and buying his first (and last) CD: a Living End single from Sanity (Issa even sings a harmony line about having Doom 2 paused to play later). Then the stakes rise dramatically with a refrain delivered in Conran’s distinctly creaky, seesawing voice: “Fifteen houses, seven schools / Foster siblings, half-bloods leaving.” Suddenly, pleasant nostalgia gives way to a sobering account of enduring sustained flux at a period of life when stability is needed most.
That stark turn of phrase is typical of Conran, who wrings lasting feeling out of fleeting fragments. Again framing his lyrical refrains like anxious incantations, ‘Uniform’ is also steeped in formative memories and sensory experiences. Conran has even said that Obscura Hail “began as a routine of externalising memory for the sake of preservation”, underscoring the lyrics’ diaristic bent.
But that personal intensity only makes the songs more relatable to others, thanks to his nuanced revelations and a singing voice that embraces and consoles like a trusted companion. There’s gloom (and, yes, doom) permeating every moment here, but Conran always guides us out of the darkness.
- Release date: September 18
- Record label: Dot Dash/Remote Control