Philippa Nihill provides the ethereal vocals and instrumentation for the magnificent Underground Lovers: adding a magnetic and enigmatic presence in the live shows that often contrasts with the maelstrom that surrounds her. She about to release a stunning new album ‘Find Her Way’ (due out on Friday).
Each track in the album individually has an airiness and light that floats like puffs of clouds in the firmament and that combine as a whole to be something substantial and thunderous. Light features strongly throughout the album – something life affirming and dreamy at times but also something that illuminates the darkness and mirrors life. It is an album imbued with pop sensibilities and a dramatic scope – wry, posed and joyous but filled with deep reflection.
Nihill describes the formation of the album – steeped in a sense of nostalgia that forms a golden thread throughout:
My mum taught me to play piano when I was a kid. I spent hours trying to figure out parts from records we had in the house, the Carpenters, the Bee Gees, Carly Simon and Carole King. Those chords are my go to whenever I sit at that particular piano. For the first time I wrote songs to go with those chords.
Nihill worked closely with Gene Argiro (Sunfruits) in the production.
There’s a woozy and playful nature to the songs themselves where time and audio styles merge and cross reference. Gene got that from day one.
We pretty quickly settled into what I think is a really great blend of classic 70’s style (Find Her Way and Love Song for Sierra Nevada) and a more current electronic pop style (Light Dream and Glisten).
We worked online for the most part with regular zoom sessions and constant files transfers. Amidst conversations about lockdowns, the weather and the craziness of life we found this great cadence, a rhythm that mostly bought out the best in the songs and each other.
Nihill’s vocal strengths are a given – the evidence is strewn across numerous Underground Lovers album. When Nihill takes the vocal controls, the song is invariable a delicate and ghostly standout that brings forth the ambient dream pop side of the band.
Opening track ‘Superceder’ sets the way forward: gentle piano over swirl of synths. Nihill’s distinctive soft vocals are to the fore with a delicate harmony. Soft, reflective and dreamy, it is an immersive introduction that transfixes and pins you down in anticipation of what is to come as Nihill entreats the listener to gather round me softly. A warm invitation.
The slumber is but temporary. Title track ‘Find Her Way’ enters with a jaunty pace. This is evidence that Nihill also possess an acute ear for songwriting and melody. It is a thrilling track that has a Burt Bacharach sixties/seventies swing to it – delicious horns frame the euphonic chorus and there is a drama and theatricality to the pace and rhythm. All the glitter and gold is steadied by Nihill’s velvet, often distant and dissociated, vocals that form an oily surface calming heaving seas as the song builds up to an anthemic crescendo. A circular piano refrain provides a steady handle on the tiller and adds to the touch of melancholy.
Nihill says the song is a nod to the seventies, the late, great Karen Carpenter and the track ‘Calling Occupants’:
On this woozy track, time moves sideways and all of a sudden our favourite Occupant alien is searching for a way home. The strings soar and the rhythm drives a killer chorus that begs repeat listens.
The result is something quite delicious – a stately and ethereal pop song that has a presence and style.
‘Glisten’ shimmers with a soul-infused glimmer while Nihill calls for us to chase the light in a golden hue: it is immediately mesmerising, an ambulant bass and tinkling piano create a reverie. There is a psychedelic hue that evokes a lazy summer afternoon, celestial drifting in mind and body. A buzz saw synth jolts us awake again with a tripping pace in ‘Light Dream’ with its almost chanting vocals and gamboling, playful piano. It is a track that positively sprays sunshine like an agricultural irrigation system, tempered with a melancholy edge. A paean to positivism in the face of adversity.
‘A Love Song To Sierra Nevada’ has the yearning spacey air that typifies Nihill’s style – light as air and deep as the ocean. Flutes and strings create a golden filigree at the edges. It is a beautiful world painted in a romantic hue.
‘Getaway’ again channels the anthemic style of Burt Bacharach with Nihill’s own unique dynamism and power. With a chorus break bigger than skies above Australia and a stirring reflective verse, ‘Getaway’ is a majestic single that ebbs and flows like a tide with a celestial burnish.
A rolling piano and distant chorus thread their way around Nihill’s distinctive velvet vocals as the song burns slowly and intensely to reach a crescendo that thunders like an electrical storm, before a seventies-infused guitar solo leads the way out.
‘Endless’ captures an ABBA-like pop sensibility (again reflecting a seventies nod) while ‘The Stars Can Come Too Again’ and ‘Sunrise’ are slow burning torch songs delivered over a rambling piano – tracks that glow like a gentle bioluminescence in the waters.
The cyclic piano and strings of ‘Can’t Wait’ heralds what at first blush is a deeply romantic love song – simple and expressive as Nihill sings all I want to do is wrap myself around you with a exhortation in the outro that is cathartic and bold as Nihill seems to undercut the romantic message as she chants:
You got what you wanted
How does it feel?
You got what you wanted
You got what you feel
Final track ‘Still Morning’ seems to leave with us with a solemn and sober conclusion – a paean to to survival and resilience – the morning after the night before:
I turned the key to the front door and stepped into the day
Here in the new day, the cold quiet air installs reflection and contemplation.
This is a delicate and beautiful album that threads light and air into the fabric, steeped in a melancholy that ethereally and majestically floats and hovers above the listener.
‘Find Her Way’ is out on Friday, 14 April 2023 and available to download and stream at all the usual places and through the link below.
The album will be launched on the afternoon of Sunday April 30 at the Brunswick Ballroom.
Tickets for the album launch are now available from here.
The recording has a panoply of musical talent:
Gene Argiro – Drums, Percussion,
Maurice Argiro – Bass,
Theo Carbo – String arrangement,
Imogen Cygler – Violin,
Lewis Mosley – Guitar,
Philippa Nihill – Piano, Vocals.
Nihill also worked with Glenn Bennie on the GB3 albums, Circlework (2003), Emptiness is Our Business (2006) & Damaged/Controlled (2010). She collaborated with Irish Australian filmmaker Paula Kehoe on the 2006 album Saoi, This Drowning is Dreaming.