Interestingly, with its stripped back live band sound and jazz inflected grooves I would have imagined that Hard Hold, the debut album by Melbourne singer Cosima Jaala, would be exactly my cup of tea. Tea, like music, however, has a lot of other nuances beyond simply what is written on the label, all of which contribute to whether a certain individual will find it appealing, both being the exact meaning of that phrase and an apt description of music journalism in general.
Jaala, who also fronts raucous Melbourne outfit Mangelwurzel, uses this solo vehicle to sing of matters more personal, and in general this works. Her voice and persona are strikingly original, and yet throughout the eight tracks on this album, despite the band obviously nailing the live performance aspect, the feeling prevails that the excitement and intimacy required of the material has not been transferred effectively to disc.
In fact, the sparse production featured here, recorded by Hiatus Kaiyote’s Paul Bender at his band’s home studio, while capturing the quirky groove of the band, also reveals that many of the songs are quite similar melodically, easily blending with one another when listened as a full set.
Jaala’s little girl voice is bubbling and bristling with personality, her unique delivery is indebted to punk as much as anything else and suits the weirdo-jazz-pop vision dished up here, recalling at times Bjork and Siouxsie Sioux. Her lyrics are economically served poetic turns of phrase and obviously based on real experiences, such as on standout track Salt Shaker about leaving her Queensland hometown.
In the end this is a promising start in hopefully a long and fruitful journey for Jaala, however as a first step this sounds like a high quality demo of some decent tunes by a crack hot and original band. It is frustratingly undercooked but its strongest point is that it at least makes you want to go and see them live in order to get the full experience.
Hard Hold is out now via Wondercore Island.
Written for Beat Magazine, published on 25/11/2015.