Tash Sultana was a global star long before they’d released an album. After their breakout single ‘Jungle’, it was 2017’s haunting, woozy ‘Notion’ EP that proved that this one-person band had range. An international tour soon followed, as Sultana became the first ever pre-debut artist to sell out three headline shows at London’s Brixton Academy. As you can imagine, debut album ‘Flow State’ came with an awful lot of expectations. A spiritual collection of spindly soul-pop, it exceeded all of them.
Rather than record more of the same to maintain that buzzing trajectory, on second album ‘Terra Firma’ Sultana has crafted a deliberately different beast to what’s come before. Instrumental opener ‘Musk’ is a sprawling introduction to an album where everything is welcome. Unpredictable and flecked with joyful trumpet bursts, it could happily soundtrack a party thrown by Tame Impala. Meanwhile the hammering ‘Crop Circles’ flickers between sparse and claustrophobic, pulling lyrics like “the only thing I fear is my head” into sharp focus.
On ‘Terra Firma’, Sultana takes a more direct approach to baring their soul. The barbed funk of ‘Greed’ acts as a statement of intent, with Sultana putting their own happiness over money in the bank (“I got by just fine not working for the man”). It’s a message echoed on the closing cinema of ‘I Am Free’ (“You don’t need money to be happy. No, you can just be free”) and a belief that sits at the heart of every freewheeling track.
Written and recorded over a 200-day period during which Sultana wrestled with touring burnout, the emergence of a global pandemic and bushfires raging through Australia, ‘Terra Firma’ finds the artist longing for some sort of stability. It’s where the title, Latin for “solid ground,” comes from. “I need this more than I should,” they sing on the soothing ‘Dream My Life Away’. The sound of someone finding a fleeting moment of peace, it provides a welcome escape from the constant noise of 2021.
On ‘Let The Light In’, Sultana, like the rest of the world, tries to stay hopeful. ‘Coma’ is an acoustic-driven breakup song, the snarling ‘Blame It On Society’ a shimmering chunk of pop majesty, while the wonky emo-pop of ‘Willow Tree’ provides a fiery burst of intensity.
Despite all those days in the studio, there’s not a second of ‘Terra Firma’ that feels rigid or overworked. Driven by rhythm, the psychedelic flourishes and moments of instrumental indulgence give the whole record a sense of bubbling excitement. Each track has a different purpose and across the album, Sultana tackles decaying mental health, evergreen love, the pressures of fame and the importance of embracing the now with an inviting openness.
Sultana is still that global star but despite the size of the rooms they’ve grown accustomed to playing, ‘Terra Firma’ maintains a delicate vulnerability. They champion intimate connection over mass participation, the record aiming straight for the heart. It’s urgent, deliberate and while on ‘Flow State’ Sultana showed off their skills as a multi-instrumentalist and loop-pedal whiz, ‘Terra Firma’ is a record made by someone with something poignant to say, and the confidence to tell it like it really is.
A record driven by purpose after long months of uncertainty and introspection, ‘Terra Firma’ acts not only as a beacon of comfort, but provides moments of bliss, escapism and reconnection at a time where things are drearier and more isolating than ever.
- Release date: February 19
- Record label: Lonely Lands Records/Sony Music Entertainment Australia