It is the very nature of music to evolve; through chords and riffs, through verse and chorus, from song to song.
Like the breath of ubiquitous lungs, it rises to the peaks crescendos and falls into the valleys of diminuendos, tracing the contours of sound like the undulations of landscapes.
In Sacred Tides, the first album from Melbournian songstress Mel Dobra, we witnessed an innocence, a naiveté despite itself and the rich melodies and harmonies in which it enveloped us. Embarking upon a solo career, it was the beginning of a journey, the first steps upon a serene pathway and, while her adventure was fraught with challenges and struggles of its own, that fresh enthusiasm echoed throughout each lilting song.
With Smoke and Flame, Mel’s second full-length album, she welcomes us to her destination, or at least, her temporary resting place. It has been a journey of some five years, filled with global expeditions, numerous collaborations and many millions of insightful, enriching steps. There is a maturity echoing through each of the eight wonderful songs of Smoke and Flame, none more so than the eponymous fourth song. Expertly produced and multi-faceted, Mel’s intimate, silken vocals become expansive, finding layer and depth beyond each syllable.
Temet Nosce, the philosopher Socrates often exclaimed; ‘know thyself’. Mel’s music, both in lyrics and scoring, has discovered itself, unveiled its true persona. Nuances of her kirtan roots whisper gently into the underlying rhythms, and while the lyrics maintain a profound and emotive gravity, the songs in and of themselves offer a more complete portfolio of influences. Smoke and Flame brings together hints of more electronic genres, a gentle lean towards a pop sound, yet infused with more worldly rhythms evocative of spiritual hymns and prayer. And while the evolution of Mel’s music speaks volumes of her journey between albums, it is still a folk-like simplicity that radiates throughout the album.
Her vocals have become more powerful, less ephemeral, and are masterfully coupled with an orchestral diversity, from piano to strings, keyboard to guitar. Like the night sky, her new album finds radiant pinpoints to anchor the listener in an expansive ocean of sound. Yet despite so much change, not only does Smoke and Flame preserve Mel’s distinctive and inimitable style, it also retains an innocence of its own. Perhaps this from a purity with which she creates her music, seeing not a grandiose yet nucleic vision of a track, but rather taking each element in and of itself and appreciating it completely. The guitar is allowed its own voice, a duet to Mel’s vocals rather than subliminal accompaniment, the piano that reappears throughout the album embodies wings that allow each song to truly soar, rather than simply providing the wind upon which it is borne. It is this attention to and respect for each instrument, a collaboration both of sound and the talented musicians with which Mel has created this album, that defines Smoke and Flame as her journey’s completion.
This assimilation in sound is in no small way due in part to Mel’s long-time collaborator, Josh Arent. Co-producing, co-writing and contributing guitar and electronics throughout the album’s undulating rhythms, Josh was integral to the creative process. Working alongside Mel, not only on this album, but throughout innumerable live performances and previous recordings, Josh was able to perfectly manifest and enhance the sound she envisaged, highlighting these nuances throughout the post-recording and engineering processes.
There is no doubt that Mel Dobra will continue to travel the myriad avenues of musical creation, journeying onwards to discover places and sounds as yet unimagined, but she will do so now no longer as the ingenuous innocent embarking on the musical landscape with rose-tinted glasses and a spring in her step. She is now a traveller of experience, each calculated and discerning footstep taken with wisdom, purpose and a deeper passion for discovery.
With consummate professionalism achieved through experimentation, collaboration and a decade of musical creativity, Smoke and Flame is a worldly guide through endless musical landscapes.
- Thomas Alexander