"[I]t’s all there in her voice."
Of the three Brisbane-based songwriters playing at The Foundry this evening, Sasha McLeod is the only one who records under a pseudonym: Sycco. McLeod has described her music as “psychedelic jazz with combinations of neo-soul undertones”, and while the psych-jazz label offers a potential explanation for the name of the project, it doesn’t necessarily do justice to the actual experience of the music itself. As the small group of dedicated fans in front of the stage demonstrate, this is dance music – there’s no need to overcomplicate it. McLeod’s recorded music is drenched in oceans of reverb, although the three-piece band she’s assembled for tonight make lively and miraculous work of songs like Starboard Square and Tamed Grief. Her lyrics remain largely indiscernible in this setting, lost in the mix of instruments and backing tracks. However, the four-to-the-floor groove of Peacemaker transcends language barriers by speaking directly to the body instead – the bassline is an epiphany.
By contrast, Hallie Tait, who records under the name Hallie, wants you to hear every word of her songs. She prefaces most of them with brief explanations, and builds them around more recognisably pop structures. Her voice is at the centre of it all, soaring up to reach tender high notes before diving back down to deliver a wry punchline. A confident performer, Tait puts aside her guitar and dances during One, a song she describes as being about polyamorous relationships (“It’s human nature”). Her three-piece band place their instruments down for an unreleased song we're told is called 'Episode Three', and was inspired by Netflix’s Sex Education. While the group harmonise beautifully, the connection to the source material remains obscure. Mercifully, Wink Wink Nudge Nudge receives no such elaborate exposition from Tait. Instead, the yearning and desire in the song’s lyrics are left to speak for themselves.
One pattern that’s emerging throughout the performances tonight is an emotional and musical directness. This is evident at a surface level: Asha Jefferies records under her full name, is supported by only two other musicians this evening (harmonies are occasionally provided via backing track), and – like the others – her songwriting is autobiographical. However, while McLeod’s writing is drowned in sound and Tait’s writing is assertive and assured, there’s a sense of vulnerability in Jefferies’ writing that seems to stem from her willingness to explore feelings of humiliation.
It’s a consistent theme that appears in Jefferies’ music, although it's embraced in a humanising manner, rather than a further source of shame: "I hate you, I think you are the worst/And I ache for you, ache/I think it might be love," Jefferies sings on Bad Kisser. Her new material also addresses this idea, a bittersweet sense of resignation regarding the restless nature of human hearts.
Her choice of cover songs is similarly widescreen in its empathy; Jefferies invites McLeod and Tait on stage to perform a medley of Say It by Maggie Rogers and Irreplaceable by Beyoncé – break-up songs from contrasting perspectives that offer a complex portrait of vulnerability. Most importantly though, it’s all there in her voice – Jefferies could sing about anything, and she’d still sound like she’s singing the truth.