Album Review: Angie McMahon - 'Light, Dark, Light Again'

27 October 2023 | 4:14 pm | Mary Varvaris

'Light, Dark, Light Again' is an album that displays Angie McMahon as she is: messy sometimes but always warm and true to who she is.

Angie McMahon

Angie McMahon ('Light, Dark, Light Again' album cover)

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When you listen to an album by Angie McMahon, you hear songs that feel both familiar and otherworldly, resembling the indie rock titans we all know and love (the quiet melancholy of Bon Iver, the earned crescendos of The National or Phoebe Bridgers) while crafting an intimate collection of songs that feel like they’ve been made just for you.

Recorded over a year in McMahon’s home city of Melbourne with Alex O'Gorman and Bonnie Knight, and the North Carolina town of Durham with esteemed Grammy-nominated producer and songwriter Brad Cook (Bon Iver, Waxahatchee, Snail Mail) and her studio band - Bon Iver drummer Matt McCaughan, Canadian singer-songwriter Leif Vollebekk and Megafaun musician Phil Cook, McMahon and the team made her new album, Light, Dark, Light Again feel simultaneously massive and tender.

McMahon sings and writes about universal concepts, such as heartbreak, depression, accountability, and anxiety. And on the highly anticipated, rewarding follow-up to her 2019 debut album, Salt, McMahon tackles those experiences like nobody else.

On Light, Dark, Light Again, McMahon’s soaring, vulnerable expressions are balanced alongside her more quiet singing, piano strokes beside crashing drums and tender guitars. She knows how to create a song that takes you somewhere and how to break your heart and mend it again, often in the same song.

It’s a record of self-examination and growth in an attempt to find oneself and what the future holds – anxiety personified at points. McMahon commented in a press release, “This is the space where everything is allowed to fall apart. Mother nature and her rhythms have been teaching me acceptance, that everything comes up to go down again.”

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And things do fall apart on Light, Dark, Light Again. The two break-up songs on the record – heart-wrenching single Fireball Whisky and Fish – are not just sequenced together on the tracklist but follow the same break-up.

Mining the earliest process of getting through the break-up, Fish was one of the first songs written for Light, Dark, Light Again and finds a huge change in mindset: McMahon couldn’t blame anyone for her pain anymore. She had to make space for herself and move forward.

Those two tracks pummel the heartstrings, so it’s a good thing the euphoric Letting Go follows. Packed with energy and McMahon’s signature authenticity, she learns to let go in a cathartic, cinematic, and liberating fashion. It’s impossible not to feel empowered and straight-up thrilled by the change in tempo and momentum.

Later in the album, however, McMahon goes down the “sad country” route with Black Eye. Painting vivid pictures with her imagery, when she sings “trying to kiss away the bleeding and the blue / I don’t feel bad for loving you” and follows it up with “just superglue / and the way I apply it so heavy”, you can’t help but feel the humour amidst the heaviness and pain.

While there is plenty of simplicity throughout the album, there’s a luscious, expansive nature that surprises, particularly on the electrifying Exploding – the instrumentals are apt for a song of that title.

It’s followed by the distorted, bass-heavy hum of I Am Already Enough. A radical track that proudly wears repetition on its sleeve, McMahon rallies against a life of capitalism and asks: Imagine if we all thought we were enough? From there, can you imagine how different and more compassionate the world would be? Primal Angie McMahon is something to behold.

Light, Dark, Light Again is an album that displays Angie McMahon as she is: messy sometimes but always warm and true to who she is.

The album finds her coming off antidepressants and struggling with that for a month (Serotonin), projecting her experiences onto others as her trauma-filled lens reflects onto others (Staying Down Low), experiencing an epiphany in the fashion of a comforting repetitive mantra (Making It Through), hitting rock bottom (Diving Fault Line), and embracing difficult experiences in other to live, not just exist.

Light, Dark, Light Again isn’t exactly a happy album, but for those who connect with McMahon’s authentic storytelling and messages, it might just feel like the soothing hug you need right now.

Light, Dark, Light Again is out now via AWAL. You can buy the album here.