Image Courtesy of Melanie Horsnell
Melanie Horsnell opens her third album, “The Cloud Appreciation Society”, with a delightful, sweet Gershwin cover, “Oh So Nice,” inspired by the birth of her second child, Gypsy. Although Horsnell confesses to crying the first time she heard it, alone in the car, its presence on the album is far from miserable – quite the opposite, in fact. Its childlike enthusiasm and tempo sets the tone for what appears to be a very relaxed and comfortable listening experience, the kind of album that one might associate with young love and summer dresses. Most of the album is built around this sound; Subtle acoustic guitars and bass, vulnerable vocals, cello, soft and sparse drums and the occasional instance of a glockenspiel.
However, just three tracks in, after the brilliantly poppy “Uncoordinated Conversation” (a lovely track about the awkwardness of new romance), there is a more complex and somewhat darker sentiment. Disguised by Melanie’s undeniably gentle voice, comes the reflections of a woman torn apart by the grief and loss of abandonment, in “Love You Madly”- A song rich in sorrow and heart-breaking images, a song that describes complete surrender. The words “I will love you madly” reach out and pull on your stomach in a way so familiar to anyone who has ever endured a significant separation, drawing the listener under her light sound, into her fierce lyrics. This track, followed by the equally sad and desperate “If We Can’t be Together,” leads the album far from the listener’s prior expectation, on a much more poignant journey.
While the delivery and instrumentation is not vastly different throughout, it is the seamless transition into these darker tones that strikes me most about this record. One can identify so strongly with the angst and imagery, and yet it sounds so calm, the melody crisp, with a lilting cello carrying the song forward. It is the sparse and gentle instrumentation, coupled with Horsnell’s clean vocal that could lead to some of this album’s depth being miscalculated, which makes her eye for detail and rich imagery so important. Her ability to capture her landscape, both literal and emotional is one of the things that makes this album stand out fully, within a well-explored genre.
This detail is particularly strong in “Tall Trees Arms”, wherein Melanie writes from the perspective of an older man, staring out at his rugged mountain home after the death of his wife with the “grey-green eyes.” One can almost feel the “frosty air,” almost hear his soft journey, among lonely valleys, green foothills and trilling creeks. Similarly, in “Late Afternoons and Ochre Walls” the “dappled light,” in which a young couple cuddle on the couch quietly, that Melanie describes is as easy to imagine here as the “big dolly eyes and cheeky smiles” of her two babies in “My Harmony, My Gypsy”, a song written out of pure adoration for her girls, in a very difficult time for her.
While similar in sound to many of her female contemporaries, “The Cloud Appreciation Society” has a very strong narrative to it, something Horsnell herself touched on in an interview with ABC southeast. The progression of the songs mimics the progression of her life at the time, starting with the joy of the birth of a new child, and moving to a new home in country NSW, to the pain of her separation. The mid-section of the album speaks of the potential for finding new love, bonding with her children and immersing herself in her new surrounds. This leads to the final track “My Heart just Wants to Fall in Love”, a joyful song about letting go of past grievances and moving on, which brings the album full circle, back to the quirky happiness of “Oh So Nice,” the sound that originally attracted my attention so quickly. I really enjoyed this album, short though it may be, and I look forward to the chance to see her live in the future.