This latest album from Carla dal Forno is her first since relocating to a small town (Castlemaine) in her native Australia and that dramatic change in environment has understandably made quite an impact on her overall vibe (as the album description puts it, she "returns self-assured and firmly settled within the dense eucalypt bushlands"). Fortunately, it seems like the transformation was an entirely favorable one, as literally everything that made dal Forno's previous work so wonderful and distinctive (ghostly pop hooks, stark bass-driven post-punk grooves, tight songcraft) remains intact. Now, however, her bloodless pop songs are charmingly enhanced with an understated tropical feel as well. For the most part, Come Around is still light years away from anything like a conventional beach party, but songs like the title piece at least come close to approximating a hypnagogic one. Aside from that, dal Forno also displays some impressive creative evolution on the production side, as these nine songs are a feast of subtle dubwise and psych-inspired touches in the periphery. That said, the primary appeal of Come Around is still the same as ever, as dal Forno remains nearly unerring in churning out songs so strong that they truly do not need anything more than her voice, a cool bass line, and a simple drum machine groove to leave a deep impression.
The opening "Side By Side" is a damn-near perfect illustration of dal Forno's distinctive strain of indie pop magic, as crashing waves give way to a rubbery, laid-back bass line and a bittersweet, floating vocal melody. Lyrically, dal Forno still seems to be in the throes of heartache, but also comes across as very clear-eyed, confident, and sensuous. That turns out to be quite an effective combination, as these nine songs radiate deadpan cool and wry playfulness while still maintaining palpable human warmth and soulfulness at their core. That alone would be more than enough to carry this album (along with all the great hooks and bouncy slow-motion bass grooves), but dal Forno is also unusually inventive with beats, psychotropic production touches, and the assimilation of unexpected influences this time around. The album's stellar title piece is a prime example of the latter, as it feels like dal Forno seamlessly mashed together The Shangri-Las and Young Marble Giants to soundtrack a surf movie for ghosts.
The album's other big highlight is "Stay Awake," which combines a minimal tropical groove with a morosely funky bass line and spacey psychedelic smears. It is admittedly a bit more overtly melancholy than some of the other pop-minded cuts, but that darker tone is nicely balanced by the propulsive riff, seductive vocals, and Latin-inspired drum machine pattern. It captures how I imagine Joy Division might have sounded post-Ian Curtis if they had relocated to Havana and enlisted a femme fatale frontwoman instead of reinventing themselves as New Order (a missed opportunity, for sure). The more upbeat "Mind You're On" is another fine would-be single, as dal Forno adds finger snaps and bird-like warbles to the mix, as well as a wonderfully poignant final hook ("it's ok, ok, ok, you're on my mind"). The remaining five songs are characteristically solid (if divergent) for the most part as well, though they tend to be a bit less hook-focused (aside from "Slumber," a duet with Thomas Bush). Obviously, some more hot singles would have been welcome, but the occasional instrumental or buzzing descent into psychedelia work quite nicely from a sequencing standpoint, as Come Around is an absorbing and evocative whole. Admittedly, I still have yet to warm to the sleepily ethereal closer ("Caution"), but this is yet another excellent album from dal Forno and easily features some of her strongest songwriting to date (at least three instant classics, by my count).