“Life can give you lemons… Geowulf make bittersweet, fizzy pop with them. Geowulf’s debut album, ‘Great Big Blue‘ screams shimmering production, relatable words and contagious melodies. In a glisteningly sleek record, Geowulf dance in a deceptively dream-like state with the ironic merriness of Belle and Sebastian, clashing with the summery, whimsical reverberated sways of Beach House.“
Generally, it helps if a band live in close geographical proximity to one another during the writing and then recording process of an album. Not for Geowulf though, as Star Kendrick (vocals) and Toma Banjanin (guitar/synths/vocals) brought the album together across the distances between London, Berlin, Gothenburg, and occasionally Australia – where the duo originally hail from a Queensland coastal town.
“When we’d meet up we’d have lots and lots of material work on so that was definitely a positive,” says Star. A handful of visa issues later, after eight years of flitting back and forth, Star has finally relocated to London, in time for the pair’s glossy debut album, ‘Great Big Blue’.
‘Get You’ was the former flatmates’ first creation. Starting life as a “really slow” Angel Olsen-streaked ballad of woeful reverb, Toma was less than keen on Star’s vision. Artistic differences aside, the pair transformed the track into what is now a melancholy pop burst. Toto-esque tribal percussion welcomes a monotone omnichord baseline with a warped, vocoded edge.
“Leaving me with nothing, you were always taking,” Star sings, as swelling electronics mirror the droning misery that tends to accompany a sour relationship break-up. But it’s Geowulf who are doing the taking now; taking a hopeless romance turned heartbreak and cooking it into a glittery, smug-faced pop pie.
Releasing a cluster of the album tracks on their debut EP, ‘Relapse’, in 2017, Geowulf have amassed a healthy following in a brief time-frame. Corona featured ‘Saltwater’ in a North American national ad and the hazy-eyed, breathy track now has over 9 million Spotify streams.
On the surface, a divine melody and blissful production suggest a serene summer soundtrack but, as is a running theme of the album, the song details the end of a relationship and hits on wider spiritual thoughts – Star’s family are all religious or spiritual in some form and the song deals with Star’s attempts to extract some meaning from it.
Opener ‘Heartbreak’ once again delves into the murkiness of romantic misery. “Hoping Monday will come again,” laments Star. Who on earth ever wishes for Monday? Star Kendrick does, as she takes Sunday anxiety to another level. “To be honest, my favourite day is Monday,” she reflects. “I think it’s a good chance to start a week differently. Sundays can have a lot of expectation, like you should be having the best old time.” Star’s candied yet anguished vocal laments over the lost Sunday strolls in the park and the weekend brunch no more.
Geowulf’s debut is glossed in a healthy coating of passive aggressiveness. ‘Greatest Fool’ is dripping with sarcasm and implied digs; its buoyant and naïve chirpiness requires a side of your best smile, served through grinding, gritted teeth. But on the flipside, ‘Drink Too Much’ and ‘Don’t Talk About You’ vent genuine regret and melancholy over alcohol-fuelled regret and clinging to old flames – “Adolescent ways of handling things, using alcohol that really just turns everything into a bit of a mess,” explains Star.
Breezy, hip swaying production cancels out any real descent into hangover/jilted lover misery though. Molly Rankin’s sugary, mellow vocals in Alvvays’ ‘Dreams Tonite’, stirred with the raw delivery of Sharon Van Etten, harmonise in Geowulf’s debut.
‘Hideaway’ epitomises the frustration and penitent feeling of Star’s narrative, embodied by frank words, “I tried to show you love, all you do is hideaway.” Had a bitter breakup? Geowulf’s ‘Great Big Blue’ is the perfect post-split rehabilitation soundtrack. “Trying to work out and process your own personal shit when you’re in your early twenties and then trying to have a healthy, functional relationship can be a bit of a balancing act,” muses Star. Paired with a hopelessly catchy melody, trying to banish earworm phrase, “Hideaway, hideaway” is a tall order; it serves well as a moving-on mantra.
The lazy, blasé melody and production certainly doesn’t represent Star’s lyrics in the literal sense; the duo inject their trademark dose of sarcasm and bitter-sweetness. The eye-rolling, venomously lackadaisical melody and stabbing lyrics encapsulate that point in a split when all care has gone to the wind and the giving-a-toss train has come to a grinding halt. “It’s somewhat amusing when a song sounds like it must be about something chill, but then really it’s not,” Star mulls – a witty edge the duo have mastered.
“A bit sassy that song hey? I like it,” says Star, reflecting the glorious, other-worldly synths that make ‘Only High’ known in such a melodramatic manner that only an arresting ballad telling of heartbreak and sorrow deserves. An unnerving , sci-fi quality lends itself to clichéd lyrics, “You don’t hold me near, you don’t hold me closer. You said you loved me, but you only lied.”
Alongside the stinging, ‘Tubular Bells’-esque synths and omnichord underbelly, wining guitar with statement country and western pitch bend adds glamour to the already cathartic tragedy. It’s a showy love (or lack of) story which would lend itself wonderfully to a late 1980/90s coming of age series with a dreamy romantic versus heartbreak subplot.
Think the tear-jerking, impassioned closing scenes of Tarantino’s 1993 ‘True Romance’, with overlaying monologue and heart-warming, post-horrific scenes of violence included. Geowulf’s ‘Only High’ could follow on dreamily from Hans Zimmer’s ‘You’re So Cool’ in ‘True Romance’ – which was heavily influenced by Carl Orff’s glockenspiel epic ‘Gassenhauer’ (which was brought to prominence in Terrence Malick’s 1973 classic ‘Badlands’).
In a glisteningly sleek debut album, Geowulf dance in a deceptively dream-like state with the ironic merriness of Belle and Sebastian, clashing with the summery, whimsical reverberated sways of Beach House and the sharper edges of Tennis. With a touch of Haim’s 80s nostalgic gated reverb loops and Deerhunter’s moody contradictions, it’s a joyously sarcastic, triumphant post-breakup album. Sound tracking the rollercoaster that is uncoupling, Geowulf concoct a cure of glitzy production, relatable words and contagious melodies.
As much as lost love and sorrow are on the cards, Star is compartmentalising certain things through ‘Great Big Blue’: “I think recognising and owning that some things have caused a lot of pain or heart break can be the first step to a fresh start and moving on to better things,” she reflects. Their debut has been a labour of love for Geowulf but 4am shift in the studio have paid off for the duo.
If the plan is to drown multiple sorrows in a gloriously sunny park (good luck with the sun part), lamenting over old flames and mistakes with Geowulf’s addictively proud debut on repeat, Star has the remedy: “Indulge. Then go get a pint and live a little.” Because, life can give you lemons, but Geowulf know what to do: make bittersweet, fizzy pop with them.
Geowulf’s debut album ‘Great Big Blue’ was released on 16 February via 37 Adventures.
The album was produced by Duncan Mills (The Vaccines, Peace, Spector).