FRITZ – ‘Pastel’ review: coming-of-age album balances dream-pop effects and alt-rock attack

Newcastle’s Tilly Murphy farewells her teen years with a diaristic yet energising second record

Coming-of-age albums don’t often feel as fresh and raw as Tilly Murphy’s second record as FRITZ. That’s because the Newcastle singer-songwriter is chronicling the tumult of her youth in real time. Following 2017’s self-titled (and self-produced) debut album, released when she was just 17, ‘Pastel’ maps the intense highs and lows of her subsequent three-year journey into adulthood.

While ‘Pastel’ still has a diaristic feel, with lyrics that are quite personal and a third of the album with the word ‘me’ in the title, it’s much brighter and more upbeat than Murphy’s brooding, lo-fi debut. Playing rhythm guitar and bass while Cody Brougham (Underlay, Oilbaron) contributes sweetly arcing lead guitar and Darren James throws himself into energetic drumming, Murphy has learned how to layer her songs so that they breathe. Her singing is gradually emerging from the protective haze of distortion, and the introduction of soaring keyboard parts further lifts these new songs.

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That’s especially true on ‘Arrow’, an equally fuzzy and floaty slice of melancholic dream-pop indebted to Alvvays – whom Murphy has cited as a key influence, alongside Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Best Coast. Her vocals are mixed higher than elsewhere on the record, driving home the lyrics for what she has called “the most brutally honest song I think I’ll ever write”. The last song penned for the album, it’s about a particularly painful relationship: “Arrow through my chest, I got depressed / From all the games you put me through.”

As with Tired Lion’s recent second album, ‘Pastel’ seizes on a ’90s-era alt-rock framework for energising (and emotionally open) results. Murphy leans more toward shoegaze, but even the most bleary effects don’t weaken the autobiographical punch. Rather, they heighten the disorienting feeling of difficult moments, and the way the past can distort and assume outsized significance over time. She has said that nostalgia is a primary theme on the album, even if she’s reflecting on events from the relatively recent past: she describes herself as “crying for attention like a baby at 18” on the opening line of ‘Ghost Poke’.

Despite the constant presence of candy-coated noise across the record, there are welcome splashes of variety too, starting with the galloping drums on opener ‘Sweetie’ and the title track’s Chills-esque melodic twist. A venting session about a spiteful ex of Murphy’s boyfriend, ‘She’s Gonna Hate Me’ adds a punky spark before trying out some subtle AutoTune – an effect that returns with more prominence on ‘U Keep Me Alive’, giving her voice the crinkly touch of digitised modern pop.

The album’s urgent pace only slows on ‘Die Happily’, a low-slung dirge paying tribute to Murphy’s best friend, and the start of the closing ‘Jan 1’. Yet, those songs still make room for a robust emotional culmination, locating the cresting euphoria within FRITZ’s bruised bubblegum sound. Murphy’s confidence may falter here and there, but she always bounces right back, surging past the requisite pitfalls of self-doubt with inspiringly stubborn determination.

Details

Fritz Pastel album Tilly Murphy
  • Release date: February 12
  • Record label: Inertia Music
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