Album Review: Pluto Jonze releases a multicoloured universe of pop in his vibrant album ‘Awe’

The Breakdown

'Awe' is a vibrant delight - a hyperactive pop blast that never rests on its laurels but rather presents a series of colourful brush strokes across a palette of rich and vibrant sounds.
Independent 8.5

The new album ‘Awe’ by esteemed Sydney-based artist Pluto Jonze (Hey Geronimo) is ten dollops of sweet ethereal goodness, filled with indelible melodies and dreamy, cloudy and hypnotic soundscapes. Jonze displays an ear for melody brushed with a degree of theatricality which makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listen. This is an ambitious album presented in widescreen with rich luscious colours. Jonze says of the album:

Whereas my past releases have always essentially had a live rock show in mind, ‘Awe’ is definitely a leap into new space. It’s more of a listening album, a world to get lost in. I’ve really wanted to get across the sense of contrasting SCALE with this record. The miniscule and the unending butting right up against each other. Do you know the visual artist, James Turrell? His light installations play with void spaces – you have no idea if they go on forever or if they finish right in front of your face. And without getting too conceited I do believe Turrell’s work has been channelled into a lot of the production and writing of this record.

Opening track ‘Been Dreaming’ has a metallic underlying thrum and a gorgeous yearning vocals on sweeping strings, with a massive chorus that is euphoric and bold.

‘Rumschpringe’ has an underlying grand piano roll and a dramatic cinematic melody: it has an endless wide horizon with a chorus that thunders. Jonze says of the track:

To me ‘Rumschpringe’ has this sense of the world running away from you. I’d just watched Devil’s Playground, this documentary about super sheltered Amish youths who have this one year where they sample life in the ‘real’ world, ‘Rumschpringe’, before deciding to either re-join the sheltered Amish community or leave forever. I was imagining what it’s like for friends from birth or siblings who end up being separated in this way. A lot of focus gets put on the difficulties of the one who joins mainstream society, but what about the person who stays behind? To me this is a distillation of something that happens in mainstream society as you grow up. Will you remember me? At the same time, I was watching a lot of other artists who I’d toured or collaborated with having different levels of national and international success, and I realised that process is like something that sort of happens all the time in life. Reinvention. For better or worse. Artistically, romantically. And how do you feel if you’re left behind.

‘Moonmaking’ and ‘Dot’ are two sides of the same sparkling coin: psychedelic-tinged melodic delights that literally float on a bed of harmonies and shimmering instrumentation.

‘Moonmaking’ is ethereal: Jonze’s velvet melancholic voice is to the fore over softly splashing piano and a subtle persuasive beat. The track is reflective and hypnotic but signs out with a crescendo of fuzzy guitars that suddenly shoulders its way in. Jonze says of the track:

For ‘Moonmaking’ I had the image of this lone piano in the woods, just me and the crickets, conjuring the moon. One of my most intimate songs in terms of writing and production. Trying to channel ‘2001 Space Odyssey’, but a bit sexy. Vangelis but haunting. The piano solo is very much inspired by early 20th century French Romantic composers like Erik Satie and Debussy, super sparse. But then I love how these subtleties contrast with the outrageous full octave fuzz guitar solo, just blowing everything to the stratosphere

In contrast, ‘Dot’ picks up the pace with a steady moving rhythm and a restless synth/string sixties jab. Jonze’s voice and vocal harmonies are celestial and the scaling melodies form a euphoric edge. Jonze says:

‘Dot’ is my modern impression of an old school crooner piano ballad against the backdrop of an epic ‘Bladerunner’ or Vangelis-esque soundscape. I wanted the sense of the enormous and the miniscule together in the production of this. The undercurrent of the huge ominous bass, throbbing like the weight of the world, cut short by finger chimes. Big influence was Landon Speers’ ‘Headaches’ soundscapes.

Title track ‘Awe’ is a glitterball of a song: punchy and melodic with a thundering pulse and a celestial back up singing that adds a massive dimension to Jonze’s laconic delivery. This continues to the fore in ‘Walk Off The Edge With Me’ with its crooning backing providing an almost fifties torch song aura. The sweeping instrumentation adds a glittering glow. In contrast, ‘Kelsey in Corduroy’ has a Motown spine with scything synths that roll in like clouds and a stop start edge while ‘I’ll Try Anything’ has a psychedelic glint in its eyes with its reverberated vocals and layered harmonies.

‘New Morning High’ has an atmospheric repeating piano riff, a restrained sense of yearning showcasing Jonze’s gorgeous velvet vocals and a soul-infected pace. ‘Rumschpringe’ in contrast drives at a faster speed – borne again on a splendid piano base that threads its way through the track but with a thumping funky beat. Jonze’s voice scales dizzy heights with another deep cut soul inflection.

Jonze says of the tracks:

I came up with that piano riff (for ‘New Morning High’) a couple of years ago and it felt like new beginnings… like emerging from the apocalypse maybe? I thought perhaps the riff could end up representing a coming-out-of-lockdown moment. Anyway, here we are. Still. The breakthrough for the song came when I tried putting that chiller beat loop behind it, from there the intent of the song fell into place. It’s about acceptance, being comfortable in your own skin, the feeling like nothing can change your world and you’re ready for anything. The riff is still the original demo recording from when I first came up with it so there’s a sense to me of the song staying true to its original intention despite the marathon it’s been on. More than any other on the record, this track makes me feel warm and happy.

Out now, ‘Awe’ is a vibrant delight – a hyperactive pop blast that never rests on its laurels but rather presents a series of colourful brush strokes across a palette of rich and vibrant sounds. Jonze is an aural auteur with a grand and beautiful vision.

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