Bold yet fragile, courageous and vulnerable, and direct but deep, the Preatures’ second album Girlhood explores the contradictions of being a modern woman.
The beloved Sydney band’s follow-up to 2014 hit album Blue Planet Eyes sees singer Isabella “Izzi” Manfredi put herself front and centre, turning different stages of her life into 11 soul-searching sonic gems.
“I hadn’t put myself on the line like that for Blue Planet Eyes,” Izzi says. “I really wanted to ask myself the right questions. Who am I in this band? What do I really think? What’s bugging me?”
Girlhood opens with the mercurial title track and first single, which finds Izzi reckoning with adulthood, before the album goes back to childhood for the yearning anthem Yanada and her teenage years forrocker The First Night and sumptuous synth ballad Magick.
“There is a concept in hindsight,” Izzi laughs. “The songs are about growing up as a young girl in Sydney. But a band is also the sum of your relationships with each other, so maybe it’s also about the last eight years growing up together.”
The charismatic singer and her band mates have forged a reputation for explosive live performances highlighted by driving rockers Somebody’s Talking, Cruel and the Vanda and Young Songwriting Competition winning hit Is This How You Feel?
On Girlhood, however, Izzi unveils a more vulnerable side to her songwriting, especially on sophisticated and contemplative moments such as Cherry Ripe and Your Fan.
“I’ve always written ballads,” she says. “They feel the most natural to me.
“But my goal after the last cycle was to play more guitar. I’m a shit guitarist, so it was nice to be a beginner again.
“The Last Night and Girlhood started like that, and then as recordings they got shaped by the four of us. Everything on the record is a reflection of my sentiment and the boys’ energy, or vice versa.”
The blues and country influenced The First Night was inspired by the Preatures’ formative days spent watching local underground acts at grimy late-night inner-city caverns.
Five years ago the band found their own niche in rehearsal space and studio, Doldrums in Surry Hills, where they recorded their 2013 Is This How You Feel? EP and shot the video for debut single Take a Card.
Doldrums is also where they recorded Girlhood. Their initial plan to carry the momentum from the epic touring for Blue Planet Eyes into a month-long burst of recording turned into a full year of creativity and refinement.
Led by guitarist and producer Jack Moffitt and driven by rhythm section of Thomas Champion on bass and drummer Luke Davison, the band surrendered to the longer process.
The Preatures say that with that extra time came the commitment to a collection of songs they could listen to on loop for a year without losing their minds.
“I was a total slave to this record,” Jack says. “I couldn’t miss anything, in case it was perfect for the song.
Jack recorded and produced the sessions, getting some initial help from Burke Reid (Courtney Barnett, Olympia, DMA’s) and ARIA Award-winning engineer Eric J. Dubowsky (Flume, Nick Murphy).
Girlhood was given a final polish in Los Angeles by mixing engineer Bob Clearmountain, an industry legend for his work with David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen as well as Aussie icons INXS, Divinyls and the Church.
If it sounds like the Preatures grappled with second album syndrome, well, they did and they didn’t.
The band insists Girlhood was no more difficult to make than Blue Planet Eyes, and the lengthy gestation has resulted in a rich, vibrant and fully realised collection.
Studio experiments sometimes evolved in serious directions, such as the French disco and 90s disco-pop guitar textures of Nite Machine, a quintessential going out on the town song.
Izzi’s ongoing collaborations with Grammy-winning Sydney producer Flume led to the band fearlessly embracing influences from the Harbour City’s electronic scene on danceable tracks, especially I Like You.
On songs such as Lip Balm and Girlhood, the Preatures indulge their love of classic new wave and pop legends such as the Divinyls, the Pretenders and the Angels.
The album also reflects the influence of disparate contemporary acts, including Parquet Courts, the War on Drugs, Solange and Thai funk-inspired Texan trio Khruangbin.
Elsewhere, they reference themselves – the R&B-inflected Mess It Up sounds like a sequel to Blue Planet Eyes highlight Ordinary.
“We wanted to be bold with this record,” Izzi says. “We wanted to be bold and clear …. Be courageous.”
As producer, Jack says he placed utmost important on lyrics, describing them as the “head of the arrow”. He worked tirelessly to find the clearest character of the songs.
“A lot of what I was thinking making this record was like a film negative,” Jack says. “Blow it up and see the details.”
Girlhood is probably the first album in music history to feature songs sung in English, Italian and the indigenous Darug language of Sydney.
That latter language appears on the stunning Yanada (Darug for “moon”), a stunning moment of pop-rock perfection which proves how far the Preatures have come since their debut.
“I write songs to understand myself,” Izzi says. “I’m a first generation Australian, my dad came over here on a boat as an Italian immigrant. My mother is Scottish, Irish and English-Australian. I was born on Gadigal land.
“Understanding and respecting those histories is part of who I am. I’m trying to find some harmony in the contrasts.”
The Preatures have worked hard to make these songs sound effortless. There’s depth but also simplicity and honesty to be discovered in Girlhood. And more contradictions, but they work. Beautifully.