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Reviewed by Rose Muollo-Gray

Estère: Archetypes

Reviewed by Rose Muollo-Gray

Estère: Archetypes

For her third masterful album, Wellington-based artist Estère Dalton dedicated herself to creating a record based on Jungian theory, devouring books and filling notebooks with dreams, brainstorms, and eventually, the material that appears on her ‘Archetypes’.

Co-produced with Massive Attack producer, Stew Jackson, ‘Archetypes’ is a concept album and a real departure from the MPC-derived bedroom beats of Estère’s previous two releases. Backed mostly by standard band instrumentation and laden with lyrical subtext, each track comes alive through the Wellington-based artist’s deft creativity. Still readily identifiable as Estère, her music here is a uniquely blended mixture of folk, R&B, and electronica. ‘Archetypes’ is the sound of an artist unafraid to follow their creative instinct.

Into the Belly of Capricorn opens the album in a rich manner, a mix of percussive synths and vocals up close harmonising together in a duet-styled way, almost like two souls are intertwining while speaking the same message to each other. Halfway through the track, Estère establishes her dominance vocally and artistically in the universe of this project with the lyrics, “If you forget me or bury me bеlow / In dusty archetypes my memory will glow,” whilst harmonies and what sounds like a vocoder back her husky vocals. The song ends with a final chorus that goes from sounding similar to a deep cut from Willow Smith’s ‘Ardipithecus’ album to a deep cut on Kimbra’s debut ‘Vows’, specifically the hidden track titled Someone’s Been Sleeping Downstairs, or Posse.

Second track Pelican is a more intimate and allegoric but remains energetic. Like the opening track, her voice dominates vocally over the guitar/bass/keys production (in itself a without overpowering it, with another choir of harmonies and vocal modulation. The production again reminds me of Kimbra’s signature jazz stylings on her debut album.

Released as a single in May 2020, the controlled piano ballad Mad About Your Sea takes the album in a darker and slower direction with synthesiser drones that slowly progress over several different piano chord progressions.  “There’s something mad about your sea/ So gravitational/ It pulls me/ Until I’m under.” There’s something nostalgic, almost reaffirming in the way she sings, reminiscent of the ’90s, whether it’s Cathy Dennis influenced techno-pop or TLC influenced RnB-pop.

Pomegranate is a standout on this record in lyrical context as well as vocal production. Estère’s vocals on the earlier tracks of this have been husky, dominant, powerful. On this track, it seems like she’s a bit softer, still projecting but not as in your face as they have been previously. The song also shifts in mood as it seamlessly flows in a gradient way from impassive electro-jazz to a slow soft rock composition, very reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s compositions from the score for the film The Holiday

The Climate In Your Skull goes in a complete 180 direction sonically, with what could be classified as tropical funk. Though the lyrics are deceptively bleak, “If angels tear down the sky/ Are you going to tell them/ That you’re not afraid to die,” this would definitely be the most fun to experience live as there are so many bright colours and feelings in the music. An upbeat energy continues on into the mischievous, Animal Pleasure, which has a suitably erotic feel to it. Estère’s vocals slur slightly as she sensually sings, “Like the demon they call Lilith sets a bad example in every myth / Oh, I go scoutin’ for somebody ready to lay their weight under me.” The percussion adds a raw and animalistic vibe, alongside well as the clever use of electronic synth and programming.

The album takes a second 180 spin when Calculated Risk, another single release, takes it into indie pop territory, with strong hints of 1980’s synth-pop. Almost angelic it’s the other side of the story of what seems like taking a risk heavily influenced by lust but she’s evidently having second thoughts about any such intentions. The pre-chorus sounds like Estére is taking the listener to heaven and then bringing them back to reality again.

Back to the allegoric, Night Crow showcases Estère at her most vulnerable state so far on this record. Having Calculated Risk before it makes this song feel like the morning after and she’s dealing with the consequences and is trying to redeem herself to those watching over her. Red Riding Hood carries the same energy but with less complex production and more stripped down compared to the rest of the project. 

Nemesis opens with the best reminder of the beat-focused Estère of old, and her beloved MPC named Lola, the instrumentation remaining electronic with a lot of edge to it. Lyrically it clearly hints that some jealousy or bitterness towards an old flame as if she’s becoming territorial of the person she is currently with. 

Reaching the end of this 11-track long and moderately rambunctious journey, Won’t Shy Away perhaps references the origins of the project, Estère’s Jungian obsession. Looking back at the first track when Estère established her dominance, her walls have been broken down and she’s now confronting some underlying demons to this façade.

The whole album successfully shows what can happen when an artist follows their creative instinct. What started as an idea of conveying multiple archetypes, then maybe the artist’s own growth and discovery, becoming their own archetype.