Eilish Gilligan has a voice like a bell – it rings with an authenticity and clarity, imbued with personal expression and personality. Her subject matter has always been raw and personal: detailing the travails of a twenty-something filled with vulnerabilities, anxieties and yet empowered and resilient in that open self-expression. Her new EP, ‘First One To Leave The Party’, is a glorious collection of emotions that charts a growing resilience and defiance infused with deep romanticism and blunt self-appraisal.
It was only in November that Gilligan released the starkly personal EP ‘Hospital’ (see our review and interview here), which was a fitting reflection of a year in the first thralls of lockdown misery, a real and biting horror for a Melburnian like Gilligan. This EP was a brilliant soundscape, coloured with emotion and close and personal imagery that somehow befitted an artistic milieu born from the claustrophobia and anxiety of a COVID era.
Gilligan has returned with ‘First One To Leave the Party’, an EP that maintains its creative expression born through a repeated pattern of COVID suffocation, but sees Gilligan move away from a sense of claustrophobia and introspection to a broader horizon. Instrumental in this is her co-opting of other musicians in the process: the canvas becomes wider and more expansive, the sounds a little more sophisticated and nuanced. Gilligan’s lyrical incisiveness, though, remains just as raw and visceral if not a little more subtle and optimistic.
In first track ‘Up All Night’, co-written with Alex Lahey and Gab Strum (Japanese Wallpaper), Gilligan metaphorically kicks off her shoes, lets her hair down and gets down and boogies. Well, maybe not quite, but ‘Up All Night’ seems like the break of dawn after a dark night – it bubbles with intensity and vivacity, showing Gilligan has a broad set of colours in which to paint her vivid soundscapes.
Gilligan says of the track:
‘Up All Night’ is the snap decision to go out, to stay up all night, to replace lovers with friends, to dance with a room full of strangers and sweat, to take drugs, to scream along and to blackout from drinking and full-body exhaustion. It’s my idea of the perfect version of that night, my idea of the perfect version of myself; someone who is fun, and chaotic, and the life of the party – not who I am, which is anxious, chronically sad, and frightened of drugs and blacking out and making out with strangers.
It is, in other words, that idealised world of happiness and release that we imagine is an appropriate response to celebrate but rarely really happens. As a resident of Melbourne – the city in Australia that was subject to numerous lockdowns during the COVID year, Gilligan is hesitantly expressing, perhaps, the tenuous joy as one emerges from the dark – the first steps into sunshine.
Nevertheless, the track is effervescent and upbeat – a thumping electro-bass and splashing synths with Gillligan’s gorgeous vocals and a sky-high chorus. There is an undeniable thread of melancholy in those vocals: creating that delicious, anxious and sublimated qualification to the joy.
Gilligan’s collaborations continue, this time with Gab Strum (Japanese Wallpaper) and Lach Bostock (Mansionair), in ‘Get Well Soon’. Gilligan’s new material is a bright and shining beacon when all else around is dark, and ‘Get Well Soon’ has a burnished pop sheen that sparkles and glitters. Deeply imbued in this, though, is the raw melancholy that Gilligan injects in her words.
Gilligan says of the track:
I wrote ‘Get Well Soon’ in the midst of grieving a relationship – you know
that part in the grieving process, where you start getting impatient that you’re not better yet?
Yeah. That part. I dreamt of telling this person that I was so sick over them, still, after all this
time – and I didn’t want them back, but I just wanted them to know that I still felt awful about
the whole thing. And that I missed them.
Indeed, what makes Gilligan stand out is the combination of her dulcet tones and the wry observational lyrics that we can all relate to:
I go to the party, go through the motions
As soon as I join it, I want to leave and
But throughout this, there is an unblemished romanticism touched with tragedy that endures:
I’m so sick without you, I wanna get well soon
The music underneath stop and starts, gurgles and bubbles and provides a vibrant and hyperactive support.
‘When You Forget Me’ showcases Gilligan’s melodic prowess. A sparse and raw depiction of our fears and anxieties about our place in the memories of those we loved and lost: it is open and brittle with Gilligan’s voice naked and delicate over a brutal bass thump and wailing synths. The pace becomes instrumental and driving, haunting and enigmatic to the end.
The title track starts with a chiming acoustic guitar base that transcends into an anthemic pop blast, with the continued thread of Gilligan’s poignant reflections on life and loss – I’m feeling so much older because last year we stayed up longer and I wouldn’t have changed if you had stayed now I’m first one to leave the party. It’s heartbreakingly exposed and emotive lyricism, an example of Gilligan’s willingness to expose her emotions with candour and clarity.
Gilligan’s vulnerability and anxiety is at the fore again in ‘It’s Not You, It’s Not Me’, and yet there is a redemptive element as Gilligan expresses a sense of resilience and defiance. A fitting track to end the EP: the depiction of a bruised and battered soul emerging into the sunlight after darkness. The track launches like a rocket into a vibrant disco beat as Gilligan ponders on resolution and healing. This track has a gorgeous, scintillating thumping vibe: a viscosity through the arpeggiated thrum ending in Gilligan’s plaintiff cry: I want to go home.
‘First One To Leave The Party’ is a beautiful expression of deeply personal frailty and vulnerability, tempered by a defiance and strength that epitomises Gilligan’s work. She captures, for me the zeitgeist of the era: a bloodied Melbourne surviving under raining blows, a battered generation that is incarcerated and anxious, and both the city and its inhabitants finding solace in the personal and growth in creativity and expression.
You can listen to and download the EP below:
The EP is out now, and Gilligan will be on the road (COVID willing) to launch it as follows:
Feature Photograph: Jeff Andersen Jnr