Iluka first appeared on the national music scene in 2011, releasing EPs To The Place and Eyes Closed under her given name, Nikki Thorburn. The youthful acoustics of her earlier releases hinted at the raw creative talent Iluka brings to her songwriting, and as her musical style has evolved from such quietly enchanting pieces to the edgier, more rounded Paper Doll (2013), in Iluka’s latest EP, Blue My Soul, we see that potential come into full bloom.
One of the most gratifying moments in life is when, without warning, the opening bars of a track immediately carry you to a whole new state of mind. “Blue Jean Baby”, the toe-tapping opener of Blue My Soul, does exactly that and sets the scene for the transportive 6-track recording from the Sydney-based artist. Launching into the rich, sepia-toned voice far beyond her 24 years, single “Blue Jean Baby” is the kind of ‘retro-pop’ offering that has drawn comparisons to artists such as Lanie Lane and Imaginary Cities. Between the urgency of the verse and the psychedelic lightness of the hook and chorus, “Blue Jean Baby” calls to mind the restless energy of youth on the verge of liberation, and promises release through the sonic road trip in the tracks to come.
“Blue My Soul” delivers the most intense exploration of Iluka’s sound. A soulful blend of alt-folk and gospel harmonies, the title track is a powerful, decidedly feminine declaration of strength in emotional expression and vulnerability. The EP’s origin story – a creative manifestation of Iluka’s travels from a Buddhist monastery in South-East Asia to desert landscapes in North America – is evident in the other-worldly feel of this track. “Blue My Soul” is unapologetically dramatic, made even more so by the occult imagery in its accompanying video.
Piano ballad, “The Fools”, continues with the theme of vulnerability. A more stripped back, yet equally passionate offering than the preceding track, it evokes the consumptive pull of a youthful romance. A track almost hymnic in sound, “The Fools” showcases Iluka’s ability to write to genre without becoming trite.
Iluka shows impressive vocal dynamism across the recording, allowing the EP to flit between uplifting ‘pop’ and grittier songs such as “In the Heat” and “Visions of Cody”. On brand with Iluka’s anachronic vision, the EP was recorded to tape, which may account for the magnified drums and bass and the natural warmth of the production. However, at times, the instrumental balance muffles the purity of Iluka’s vocals, and the most engaging moments on the EP are those that allow her voice to soar, captivating the audience with its smoky, full-bodied quality.
From start to finish, Blue My Soul is a release of exceptional quality. Boldly drawing on a vast range of styles and influences, the EP declares Iluka as a player in the Australian music scene with only potential to grow. Ahead of her eight stop tour scheduled for this March/April, carve out some time to give Blue My Soul a listen.
Review score: 8.5 out of 10.
Blue My Soul is out now.