You Wanted to Be the Shore but Instead You Were the Sea
The intriguing name of singer-songwriter Natalie D-Napoleon’s new album makes a lot of sense upon learning that she’s a published poet (she won the Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize for her poem First Blood: A Sestina). You Wanted to Be the Shore but Instead You Were the Sea is a thoughtfully poetic sentence and also encapsulates the stories D-Napoleon tells on the album: of women breaking free from men who they initially believed to offer stability and safety when the truth was a far more fragile place.
D-Napoleon’s sound is steeped in the American folk and country tradition and she recently lived in California for over a decade, honing this connection. She returned permanently to her hometown of Fremantle last year; as a fitting celebration, her fourth solo album (she previously played in the Perth band Bloom and alt-country lineup Flavour of the Month) reached the top spot this week in the AIR 100% Independent Album chart, just above a certain Lime Cordiale.
It was recorded using just one microphone in a 100-year-old-chapel in Santa Barbara, California so it’s perhaps surprising that the music sounds so full and vibrant. The 12 tracks are always momentous and rarely quiet (when she does start hesitantly, as on a song like Second Time Around, the rhythm always rises to a resounding and storming conclusion). The sound journeys between plaintive folk and confident country throughout. How to Break a Spell is an aching example of the former, while the almost-parodical Gasoline & Liquor is an expressive example of the latter.
Lyrically, D-Napoleon pours everything into the album, surrendering completely to the experience. On the melancholic closing track Broken, she sings “What I see is beauty in your vulnerability” about an unnamed person, and so too these words could apply to D-Napoleon’s entire musical mission.
This is a raw and honest record and one that clearly values vulnerability. D-Napoleon stated that she wanted to explore the complexities of women when often their stories have been presented one-dimensionally. So she discusses how marriage hardens a woman on the sprightly percussive track Soft; she tackles the emotion of miscarriage on the overwhelming Reasons; and she explores the permanence of childhood trauma on the contemplative title track.
The women in D-Napoleon’s narratives constantly break free of the tyranny of toxic men. The opening song Thunder Rumor is a haunting meditation on that crucial moment when a woman escapes an abusive relationship; Cut Your Hair is a feminist celebration of finding freedom and expressing yourself in the way that you want.
There are more personal moments on the record too. Mother of Exiles was inspired by Emma Lazarus’ poem at the foot of The Statue Of Liberty about America’s (alleged) embrace of immigrants, one of which D-Napoleon was. The driving Wildflowers was influenced by the vivid changing colours of the California desert where she used to live. On No Longer Mine, D-Napoleon says “Darlin’ I can’t hide this feeling I’ve got inside;” and this album is testament to that being a good thing.