“A lot of label people and pop songwriters who aren’t necessarily that good, in my opinion, think you need a sweeping, broad statement that’s gonna definitely apply to everybody,” Mallrat – aka 20-year-old Aussie singer, rapper, and producer Grace Shaw – told NME last year. “But it’s the details that are the coolest things about being a person and little relationships of any kind.”
The Brisbane musician’s point was that you don’t need to fill your songs with universal sentiments because it’s the small things that people connect with. Her third EP gently drives that idea home, littered with little specificities from Shaw’s life and experiences; the cumulative effect that of opening up her world to those listening, rather than shutting them out.
On ‘When I Get My Braces Off’, she inhabits a teenager’s body on the edge of turning 16 and, in her sing-songy, half-rapping half-singing voice, lays out anxieties about her looks, shares her plans for skipping school and counting change to “get a Slurpee”. The glistening piano-pop of ‘Charlie’ takes its name from Shaw’s golden Labrador, as she draws a line between him and the person she’s singing to: “All you got to do is wait for me to get home / Like Charlie in the rain outside.” The pristine quietness of ‘Stay’ is permeated with nuggets about her family and her sleeping habits: “Was it a mistake to leave? / Do you wanna stay?” On paper, it all looks so mundane – but in her hands the everyday is given a magical quality.
‘Driving Music’ arrives just over three years since Shaw released her first EP as Mallrat – the bouncy, bright ‘Uninvited’. Back then she was still figuring things out: 2018’s ‘In The Sky’ and this new release show an artist who’s progressing fast. This record is the sleekest she’s put out so far, effortlessly segueing from the skittering beats of ‘Drive Me Round’ to the stuttering glacial pop of ‘Circles’. It’s also a new colour for the young artist, whose previous output was almost consistently ebullient, even when dealing with more sensitive topics. Here, there’s a blueness to all aspects of the songs at various points – production, lyrics, and delivery – but a little melancholy winds up suiting Shaw.
There are hints of early Lorde dotted around the EP, as when ‘Intro’’s twinkles fade into ennui-heavy drones and snaps or, more generally, in the way she can make songs sound so expansive while simultaneously honing right in on the details. But it’s hard to compare Shaw to many of her peers. What she’s always done has been distinctly her own and, as she rounds off some of the rough edges of her earlier work, that’s something about her that has yet to change.