Mallrat – ‘Butterfly Blue’ review: sublime pop portraits

Much of the Australian alt-pop artist’s debut screams potential hit – these compelling compositions are still perfect for bedrooms, but could captivate festival stages, too

Across three EPs since 2016, Mallrat has matured from a sly, precocious Brisbane teenager to one of Australia’s leading alt-pop prospects. If 2019’s ‘Charlie’ showed us who Grace Shaw was, her 2020 single ‘Rockstar’ showed us who Mallrat was becoming: a starry-eyed yet down-to-earth chronicler of modern Australiana moods.

Now 23 and based in Melbourne, Mallrat is finally releasing her long-awaited debut album ‘Butterfly Blue’. “When we’re up in a spaceship / That’s when I feel the greatest”, she sings on the opening track ‘Wish on an Eyelash’, sounding as gentle as ever. But as it melds into ‘To You’, her newfound vocal confidence is put on full display – with a gorgeous lead vocal framed by floating harmonies that would make Ariana Grande proud.

With its palette of poppy synths, deconstructed electric guitars and reverb-drenched acoustic picking, ‘Butterfly Blue’ sounds grand yet feels utterly relaxed. Written and co-produced with a murderer’s row of largely Australian collaborators – Styalz Fuego, Alice Ivy, Japanese Wallpaper – these songs are still perfect for bedrooms, but could captivate festival stages, too. More than half of the album screams potential hit – at least on streaming playlists, if not top 40 radio.

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Mallrat’s music undeniably feels bigger, but Shaw hasn’t fundamentally changed who she is. Sure, she’s developed her gift for classic pop hooks, like on the devilishly catchy two-word chorus of the single ‘Your Love’. But elsewhere, her songwriting is as unusual as ever.

Mallrat’s not exactly confessional nor poetic; instead, she writes songs like she’s painting a portrait – conveying a mood, time and place with as few strokes as possible. Sometimes, her songs aren’t even complete narratives, like the sublime ‘Heart Guitar’, where she’s suspended in time: “I’m looking at you and looking at some sort of ghost / It’s four white horses and I’m crying at you, please don’t go”. Shaw is always emotive, but unsentimental: an observer of feelings, of others, of herself. She never tries to be inscrutable; it’s simply how life presents itself in her music.

The album has one jarring moment: Azealia Banks’ feature on the bouncy ‘Surprise Me’. Mallrat’s verses and choruses have plenty of sly attitude, but Banks’ guest verse is pitched at too amped-up a level for Mallrat’s unflappable chill. With a Louis C.K. punchline that will make some laugh and others roll their eyes with distaste, it’s polarising in ways that Mallrat herself is not. One of Shaw’s formative influences, Banks is always charismatic, but ultimately the feature diverts focus from an otherwise unified artistic vision.

Still, ‘Butterfly Blue’ is easily one of 2022’s most charming Australian pop albums. Even among its 11 other songs, though, it’s no surprise that ‘Rockstar’ remains an obvious highlight, 19 months after its original release. With sweet melodies over sludgy detuned bass guitar, Shaw fantasises about marrying a rockstar, while sounding like she’s already become one herself. It’s ordinary, dreamlike, and utterly relatable – the very essence of Mallrat, on her most compelling release of many to come.

Details

Mallrat album Butterfly Blue
  • Release date: May 13
  • Record label: Dew Process
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