The Lowdown: “D.I.Y.” is a term that a lot of artists pay lip service to, but few live out the philosophy quite like Tash Sultana. Flow State, the Aussie-born singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist’s hotly anticipated debut, is so completely self-made that calling it D.I.Y. somehow feels like an understatement, even if that’s exactly what it is. Every sound, be it skittering guitars, languid flutes, saxophones, strings, loops, or vocals, has the 23-year-old Sultana’s soulful fingerprints on it.
The Good: Sultana’s prodigious work ethic is warrant of praise by itself, but it wouldn’t mean much if Flow State’s end results didn’t deliver. No worries there. Having steadily built up a grassroots fan base, we finally have a record that lives up to all the promise and hype. Sultana has crafted a soulful, eclectic, and moodily evocative debut effort that cross-pollinates styles as varied as reggae, R&B, calypso, and Joe Satriani-esque guitar heroism, making for something that’s both accessible and truly their own. Lyrically, the record also carries the weight of a scorned heart. “I don’t need your loving for my salvation”, they sing over the seductive pop of “Salvation”. It’s the kind of lyric that only further cements Sultana’s bone-bred independence.
The Bad: Flow State’s abundance of sounds and styles is one of its best assets, but it also occasionally borders on cumbersome. Most of the 13 tracks tip the scales at four or five minutes, and by the time the 9:35 “Blackbird” rolls around, even listeners with a healthy appetite for Sultana’s lushly layered pop will likely have had their fill. That said, this is essentially the musical equivalent of telling your prospective boss that “sometimes you care too much” at a job interview.
The Verdict: We recently released our list of 10 Pop Records for People Who Hate Pop Music, and we might have been remiss in excluding Flow State. Sultana’s ear for tasty hooks and melodies can’t be denied any more than her boundless musicianship, so those hell-bent on dismissing pop as middle-of-the-road mainstream schmaltz will have to look for proof of such elsewhere. This is great pop music with an edge, a record full of good vibes and bad attitude that somehow manages to work everything out splendidly.
Essential Tracks: “Big Smoke”, Murder to the Mind”, and “Salvation”