It all started with an apocalyptic dream. The sky was falling. The whole world was at stake. “I woke up in a sweat,” Brigitte Bardini recalls, “and I just remember understanding how vulnerable I was; how vulnerable we all are as human beings. I was kind of at a crossroads at that point. That’s when I decided to make music the sole thing in my life.”
Stellar Lights is the debut album by the 21-year-old singer-songwriter and multiinstrumentalist from Melbourne’s inner south in Victoria, Australia. Sonically, it’s more dreamscape than apocalypse, but the momentum in its grooves, the reckless abandon to lush creative possibilities and the urgency of its emotions are all hard to miss.
“I had a lot that I needed to get down and I remember the songs coming out really fast,” she says. “There would be consecutive days where I would be like, ‘I’ve got a new one’. It felt weird when I was slowing down. I was like, ‘Have I lost it?'” No, was the answer. That first rush of writing and home recording spanned the arrival of her first guitar in late 2018 to completed demos less than a year later: an instinctive interweaving of imagination and experimentation with chiming, watery guitars and pillows of vintage keyboards gliding oceanic swells of strings.
Then came the great silence of 2020: a time of isolation and reflection that took Brigitte deeper, to new textures and emotional dimensions. From the disorienting rhythmic layers of the opening track, Heartbreaker, to the slowly entwining updrafts of Breathe, the result is an album that inhabits its own expansive world of dreams made sound.
“It’s based on sound and trial-and-error; what works for me,” says Brigitte, who counts amongst her inspirations the fearlessness of PJ Harvey and Jeff Buckley; Beck’s orchestrations and the sonic weightlessness of Air. “It’s about what picks me up or makes me a little bit sad; makes me feel sentimental or nostalgic.”
The world shared those feelings for the first time in mid 2020, when her ethereal debut single Aphrodite was picked up as Rolling Stone Australia’s video of the week. It was noted as “introspective dream pop” by the NME Australia and praised by Tone Deaf in Australia for its reflections of classic ’90s indie pop and trip-hop. The follow-up, Wild Ride, was acclaimed as “lush folk-pop” by Music Feeds in September.
“Some songs are like a note to myself, to remind myself of where I was at that time,” Brigitte says of the latter track, which captures in real time her revelation to commit her life to music. “I mean, I didn’t do that on purpose,” she adds. “It’s only looking back I see. It was like writing a diary.”
Brigitte’s back story is one of sustained self-determination. She spent years resisting direction, from school piano lessons through ballet, choir, sketching, poetry and a short stint with psychology at uni. Her father’s record collection had woven its spell from an early age but it was her Roland FA08 synth that gave her the power.
“I started to learn Ableton through COVID, too,” she says. “I experimented a lot with that, finding other ways I can put beats and sound together. It’s definitely a performance-driven tool. You’ve got a lot more to play with in terms of how you’re able to manipulate sound.”
Hence the crystalline architecture of Inside Your Head with its off-kilter undertow of programmed beats; and the more sinewy propulsion of Everyday. From there to the crisp, ringing acoustic guitar of All My Life and the stately waltz-time piano and night-air ambience of Feel My Love is an album that seems to morph and expand like a private, majestic universe.
At its heart, Stellar Lights is a beautiful mystery. Chords change like colours in the evening sky and voices whisper just beyond the reach of meaning. Whatever the inspiration, “the song is usually not specifically about that,” the writer says. “When I write it’s not about the subject, the trigger of it, it’s more the aftermath; what I took away from it. It’s not a who, it’s a what. It’s a lesson.
“I didn’t know I was gonna write these songs. It was never a plan,” she adds. “And even when I started writing, it wasn’t like ‘I’m writing an album’. But it seemed to be good, and it seemed to get better. I was realising all of it as it unravelled.”
The final stage of realisation began at Melbourne’s Toyland Studios with Adam Calaitzis, who would record and ultimately mix the album. Both he and Brigitte’s father Alex contributed as co-producers on some tracks, but it was the artist who held the reins as the album’s producer.
“I didn’t want anything to get lost,” she says of the transformation from her home demos to final master by Tony ‘Jack-the-Bear’ Mantz at Deluxe Studios in Brunswick, (Melbourne) Australia. “There’s something in a song that somehow just gives it that spirit. And I needed to make sure that wouldn’t disappear using the tools of studio production.”
Stellar Lights is being released through Ruby Valley Records, an independent record label with respected Australian industry veterans manager Simon Rashleigh and lawyer Jonathan Williamson providing valuable industry experience.
“The thing I learnt in creating these songs was to always be honest,” Brigitte says. “No matter how silly it may sound, or how brutal it may sound, how over-dramatic, just be honest. I knew that would work. Because I can always hear in a song when I’m not being honest. You can tell in your head when you’re holding back something. “I always make something that’s the best when I’m hitting a nerve.”
‘Stellar Lights’ is released on Monday the 30th of August 2021 on Digital, CD and Vinyl
High Violet PR