With 'Singular', Breckin has us absolutely, utterly enchanted with her whimsical and softly cinematic chamber-folk reverie.
A hauntingly beautiful gust of warm indie folk wonder, Breckin’s new EP Singular is a soft and stirring journey of beloved childhood storybooks, angelic babes and the inevitability of Spring.
Independently released on Friday, November 25 2022, Singular is a tranquil and cinematic re-introduction to Breckin, the moniker of Melbourne-based award-winning visual artist, poet and singer-songwriter, Heather Marsh.
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Arriving four years after her powerful debut album Shiner, Singular finds Marsh doing what she’s long done best: Craft a lush, lilting experience out of stirring folk sound and expressive lyrics.
This time around, there’s even more weight to the songwriter’s art, with Singular being the wondrous bookend to a wild and winding journey that saw Marsh physically unable to creative music.
“I released my debut album, Shiner, in late 2018 and was just delighted that it got picked up by press and radio in Australia, the UK and the US – KEXP Seattle selected the lead single as a song of the day and featured it on their morning show. I already had material to begin this EP and was excited to start recording, and producing to build on the success of Shiner,” she explains.
“Then in 2019 I acquired a neurological disorder called FND (Functional Neurological Disorder) which affected my speech, ability to walk, and muscle strength and gave me a right-hand tremor. It was frightening and really challenged everything I knew about my identity. I was very lucky that I was referred to the Alfred Hospital’s neurological movement disorders clinic and it turned out that my diagnosing neurologist happened to also be the guitarist in a popular Melbourne band.
“He recommended that part of my recovery include singing and playing as those brain pathways weren’t as affected as speech or other forms of movement. I can honestly say that music saved me. It gave me purpose and a sense of self when so many other aspects of my identity (like being able to work!) weren’t available.”
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With music providing comfort and inspiration, Marsh found the strength when she needed it most and started recording as soon as her body would physically allow her to in the early months of 2020. But her challenges weren’t over, with Covid taking reign and the process of the EP stalled considerably.
“The production of this EP has happened between lockdowns so it feels like a huge victory to get it out there – I’m sure so many other artists can relate to a very long lead time for their releases because of the impact of the pandemic on our industry.”
Nearly three years on from the EP’s beginnings, Marsh emerges this month revelling in life’s beauty. Across five lush and layered chamber-folk tracks, Singular provides a cathartic hug of warm, hushed perfect poems, that both satisfy and leave you wanting more.
Stretching playful tendrils into sparkling and surprising possibilities on her acoustic Guild M20 (the famous ‘Nick Drake’ guitar), Marsh comes to life through the EP full of sweet, vulnerable musing, unearthly and powerful vocal harmonies and an intoxicating, filmic indie-folk guitar, drawing Inspirations and influences from American 1970s folk-psychedelic singer Linda Perhacs, Harmony Byrne, Julia Jacklin and Coda Chroma. These influences flourish throughout the beautifully fingerpicked EP, though there are distinct nods to Nick Drake and his divine and unique fingerstyle guitar combined with gently, wry lyrical lines.
Like a sleeping giant, there’s a grandeur to the unassuming five tracks; a grace that shines an invisible, but palpable light out into the universe.
Almost instantly, Singular whisks listeners into Marsh’s whimsical and wild reverie with the opening track ‘Mockingbird’, drawing inspiration from the classic modern American writing by Harper Lee.
Providing a powerful and poignant reintroduction to the artist’s haunting indie folk artistry, the moody, ethereal vocal harmonies of ‘Mockingbird’, meshed with mesmerising strings and airy woodwind, carry the listener to a wild and beautiful landscape accompanied by philosophical musings “We’re animals of meat and bone, but beasts who know we’ll die and so we flee to pasts..or futures unknown”, before reflecting on deeply personal life lessons “Don’t fall for a self-saboteur. They may not mean to hurt you but you’ll still end up their collateral damage”.
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With finger-picked acoustic guitar cascading toward gently bowed fiddle, ‘Spring’ is lush and tender, highlighting Marsh’s intricately beautiful thoughtfulness and cinematic style of songwriting; while ‘Leroy’ – with tightly layered harmonies, akin to First Aid Kit and rhythmic picked acoustic guitar – stands as the most personal song on the EP. Plunging deep into her heart-wrenchingly vulnerable depths, ‘Leroy’ was written for dear friends whose baby was born within days of Breckin’s daughter but only survived a few months. Leroy celebrates how even a very tiny person, who alighted on this earth so briefly could so deeply touch hearts.
With a fresh, revitalising breath of musical self-discovery, the EP moves onto ‘Terebithia’, an otherworldly and cinematic track that pays homage to the book Breckin became obsessed with in the fourth grade. Raw and relatable, it begins with sweet, slow vocals of propelling acoustic guitar telling the story in the first-person of a beautiful and ill-fated friendship. The listener is carried toward a single-line chorus that swells with strings.
Focusing her attention on being in the present and embracing the little moments that matter, the closing track ‘Singular’ invites listeners to join Marsh in a dreamy, reflective reverie. Between her warm, smooth vocals, calming stings (arranged by Biddy Connor) and lush, atmospheric instrumentation that sits somewhere between indie-folk and chamber-folk, the title track proves an enchanting best foot forward.
Across the five tracks, there’s poetry to Marsh’s words. Her songs are as much contemplative philosophical ponderings as they are dreamy, diary-like musings. Musically, Singular sees Marsh hone in on her skills as a guitarist, arming herself with the ability to build such swirling, dream-pop and indie folk soundscapes around her vocals, balancing this with adept production from Lawrence Folvig.
“When I released Shiner I had songwriting ambitions and I could hear how I wanted the songs to be but I didn’t have the skills on guitar to bring my ideas forth – to play all those parts myself.
I worked with Richard Andrew of Pharmacy Studio as a producer and was really happy with the result…but also wanted to be able to play songs by myself without needing a guitarist to accompany me,” Marsh says.
“Since then I have written songs that had the chords, picking patterns and melodic lines exactly as I wanted them (or emerged as the songs wanted to be) and then I had to learn to perform them. I would write guitar passages and chord progressions that were beyond my skill to play at speed and I’d work every morning and night before and after work to be able to play them in a way that was satisfying to me and hopefully to a listener.
“If somebody started playing a song and expected me to be able to jam along I’d be screwed, yet I’ve written and can perform technically difficult guitar songs. It’s a conundrum… and I think, again – driven by wanting to avoid being boxed into traditional songwriting methods or predictable ways of playing after a very rigid classical musical experience when growing up.”
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From the very first delicate note of ‘Mockingbird’ to the final breath on the closing track ‘Singular’, there are no missteps here and by the second run-through, the magic offered here is already dissolving in your ears.
“Singular, I think, lives up to its name. They are unique songs that travel in unexpected ways,” Marsh says.
“I’m so deeply grateful to all the folks who encouraged, worked alongside me and cheered me on to the finish line with this EP. Now I feel genuinely ready to sink my teeth into the next project knowing I took care of these babies and let them out into the light of day.”
Singular affirms that Marsh is (still) on top of her game and that her future offerings promise to be a captivating, immersive folk experience.
Stream ‘Singular’ here and witness the exquisitely ethereal quality of Breckin live on Sunday, November 27, when she’ll be performing live at Wesley Anne (a neurodiverse-friendly event).
Keep up with the latest from Breckin here.