Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Normalest’s debut album ‘Opia’ is a cinematic folk masterpiece

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Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Normalest’s debut album ‘Opia’ is a cinematic folk masterpiece

Words by Talia Rinaldo

The debut album, Opia, is out Wednesday, September 1 2021.

Striking and poignant, Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Ben Karklins delivers his debut record of beguiling melodies and harmonies under the solo-moniker Normalest. Titled Opia, the debut album is an ethereal, stunning and all-encompassing introduction to the artist who across nine tracks, delivers a cinematic voyage of connection and vulnerability.

Previously creating music as Ben Avery, Normalest sees Karklins take his music to new heights, anchored by his honeyed, unique vocal, floating over shimmering guitars and dreamy folk soundscapes.

“’Normalest’ began years ago when I started writing the songs for Opia, although, I was going under the name of Ben Avery at that time,” Karklins explains.

“But once the album was finished, I felt like I needed a clean slate to present Opia to the world. So ‘Normalest’ was born! I launched the project in July this year.”

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Spanning a collection of uplifting acoustic guitars, delicate keys, driving beats, heart-wrenching lyrics and layers of soaring vocals, Opia is crafted deftly and burns so slowly towards its final sonic destinations that you’ll hardly notice the transitions between chilled acoustics, driving percussions and swirling dreamscapes.

With the help of accomplished producer Curtis Hatton from Studio Truth, these layers of instrumentation and clever additional textures are added throughout the album, but never seem intrusive or appear to distract from the lyrical thrust.

“It was a very experimental process from start to finish so my producer Curtis Hatton and I were constantly picking up different instruments to add new textures and emotions throughout the album. It’s all part of the fun.”

From the lush and tender album opener ‘Travesty’, the anthemic, catchy and all-encompassing ‘Perambulate’, the chilled acoustic-driven ballad ‘If You Tried’, to the beguiling and hypnotic ‘Usually In Love’ and the wistful yet melancholic ‘Twenty-Five’, the album highlights Karklins’ intricately beautiful thoughtfulness and cinematic style of songwriting, painting an honest portrait of his experiences of vulnerability, insecurity, personal growth, obsession, connection, and love.

Opia is all about connection and vulnerability. Depending on the context of the situation, looking someone directly in the eye can either make you feel safe or exposed. If you look in the eyes of someone you love you can feel an intense connection, but if you’re looking in the eyes of someone you’re lying to then you almost feel like they can see your thoughts in your eyes,” he explains.

“So Opia is all about those feelings. Vulnerability, rejection, love, obsession, yearning, peace, and loneliness. All things that everyone has experienced at some point in their lives.”

With distinct nods to the likes of Bon Iver, Patrick Watson, Sufjan Stevens, and City and Colour for its lush atmosphere, emotional lyrics, and cinematic arrangements, the album sees Karklins excel in making thoughtful and introspective yet warm and inviting music; elegantly contrasting honest, poetic lyrics and beautifully cinematic music, resulting in songs that provoke pause and reflection.

A passion project for the past four years, the album also sees Karklins hone in on his multi-instrumentalist background of 17 years, playing almost every instrument on the record, aside from the drums and flute. Much like Bon Iver, Radiohead and Dallas Green, who initially inspired Karklins to delve into songwriting, he manages to build such swirling, melancholy soundscapes around his vocals that the final result is an album that feels incredibly lush, ethereal and above all, honest.

“Most of my songs are written from personal experience, although, I don’t usually know what I am writing about until about halfway through the song,” he reveals.

“I see it almost like a therapy session. You know you need to get some stuff off your chest but you’re not really sure what will happen once you sit down and start venting! I also love including little things from my past like the suburb I grew up in or memories from when I was a kid. I think honesty is the best policy with songwriting, as I believe it’s an artist’s responsibility to eloquently convey the complexities of life in ways that the listener may not be able to express themselves.”

From the very first delicate note of ‘Travesty’ to the final breath on closing track ‘Athelstone’, there are no missteps here and by the second run-through, the magic offered here is already dissolving in your ears.

The amount of love, craft and care that went into this album is paramount. With a raw, inimitable grasp on songwriting, Karklins has poured himself into creating this captivating and truly beautiful body of work, and the results are there to be seen.

Normalest’s debut album Opia is out Wednesday, September 1. You can pre-save the album here.