Julia Deans boasts one of the best falsettos in New Zealand. Her razor-sharp voice is intoxicating from the moment it chimes in on Clandestine, the bravely slow opener to We Light Fire, and it's not long until she's swirling into her upper reaches, finding a glorious emotional peak over a twangy guitar and a considered, gentle tempo.
It's an interesting choice to open an album almost eight years in the making with one of its slower tracks – but it pays off on We Light Fire. A patient listener is warmed into the album by the song, which lays the groundwork for Deans to explore her ideas with the time they deserve.
Primarily a pop-rock record, Deans also tries on elements of synth-pop as well as jazz influences over the 10 tracks. Lead single The Panic is the most radio-friendly song on the album, and easily one of the best. The urgent beat and grungey bass lines add a furiousness to the anxiety of Deans' lyrics, which are centred around a cold revelation in the chorus: "Deep in our hearts we sleep alone."
The album's former half is its strongest; Souvenir's meditative, shuffling beat lends a sense of mystery to Deans' stunning harmonies, while Pick Up's sparse journey culminates in a climax that skillfully layers a number of vocal tracks. That the album was recorded by Deans and her partner, David Wernham, at their home studio is impressive; the production quality is immaculate throughout.
While the electronic elements are largely welcome, certain synth lines and embellishments are superfluous and border on gimmicks. But overall, with less heady lyrics than Modern Fables and more variation in style, We Light Fire sustains a delicate nuance over its 10 tracks, marking an exciting step up for Deans' solo work.
Julia Deans, We Light Fire
We Light Fire
A sonically strong showcase of one of New Zealand's greatest vocalists