The newest emerging talent to come from Australia’s ever-fruitful indie rock scene comes in the form of Rhiannon Atkinson-Howatt aka Merpire. Emerging back in 2018 after signing to Fright Night Music and being showcased at Bigsound, Merpire has spent the last few years gaining a loyal following thanks to her insightful and emotive lyrical passages and raw indie sound. Support slots for Julia Jacklin, Angie McMahon, Didirri and Olympia on the way, Merpire has now emerged with her debut release, Simulation Ride. And although the album may take its name from the feeling of displacement with reality, this debut album very much keeps it real.
Opening with “Village”, Merpire sets the tone for the rest of the album both lyrically and sonically. Through harmoniously tender guitars Merpire is pacing through her mind, back and forth through the anxieties that encompass. “It takes a village to love you” she declares as the distorted syncopated guitars crash into action. It’s the idea of symbiotic living that she’s battling with, stating that she doesn’t see how just one individual could love her, rather it would take a whole settlement’s worth of people for her to try and compare to until she could feel comfortable.
You soon come to realise that Merpire has a keen attention to detail and placement of moments within her song. On “Lately” she opens with just guitar, slowly adding layers of emotive synthesisers and razor sharp riffs intermittently. They don’t flood the soundscape but rise and fall in patterns of selected emotional outpours. Each guitar breakdown or new layer of sound added feels like a new layer of self doubt being added on until reaching its despairing finale. Some of the emotive heights that Merpire does reach on this album can sometimes be leave subsequent feeling lack-luster or formulaic copies of the previous outings. “Brain Cells” has all the same principal elements of its predecessors, yet never quite reaches gloried heights or offer anything new to the narrative of the album.
Self-described as a “journey through my mind”, this album reaches it’s most poignant when Merpire is at her most intimate, allowing us to walk the path of her psyche with no barrier between emotion and reality. “I was a creature of habit / When it came to coming undone” she sings on the opening line of “Habit”, and it’s this mixture of clever lyricism to counteract the weight of emotion that Merpire touches upon that helps creates a whimsical front for the heavy-hitting convictions that she is laying out for all to see.
What becomes clear towards the end of the tracklist is that Merpire has a certain knack for delivering emotive ballads in quick succession. “Sink In” begins with acute lo-fi textures and whimsical guitars that draw you into a false pretence of subtleness. As the drums kick in and the melodies yearn infectiously you can feel the tension rise until the great cloud of anxiety washes over the track. Searing guitars and emotive vocals surround the soundscape as Merpire tries to fight for her love as she repeats “Stay! / How long do I have to hear it / Before it sinks in”. And on closer “Yusiimi” she evokes the same kind of jealousy and contention that was found all over soccer mommy’s debut album Clean. Whether Yusiimi is a real person or a clever abbreviation for wanting to be taken as you are, Merpire ends this album as devastatingly as it started. Constant comparisons to another that can seemingly never be equated to, Merpire lays out one last cry for some form of acceptance that we can only hope will be found with the exploration of the emotions she addresses throughout here debut.
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