Intrepid but not yet world-weary, indie-folk newcomer Tess Liautaud’s self-titled debut album is an intimate exploration of identity found on the road.
Recorded in Otago’s Sublime Studios and produced by studio owner Steve Harrop, ‘Tess Liautaud’ weaves stories of journeying, love and possibility around plucky guitar hooks and thoughtful melodies. Her first multi-song release, this record confidently establishes Liautaud’s folk-forward sound and places her alongside such artists as Candice Milner and Looking For Alaska.
A Franco-American, now based in Golden Bay – references to which feature on the introspective track Sway – Liautaud has spent much of her life on the road. The album, like her, is multinational, with additional overdubs made from Paris and Indiana, USA. Despite this, ‘Tess Liautaud’ retains a uniquely local feel, adapting a recognisable indie vernacular into her individual style and making the album perfect for soundtracking a drive along State Highway 60. This sense of place is central to the album, which explores the freedom of both travel and of a close connection to the land.
Thoughtfully navigating between jangly, indie rock coolness and grounded folk, Liautaud doesn’t confine herself to a single sound. Driving rhythms shape Still Learning, while good-natured horns mark Tui Song as standout. Capturing the cheeky carelessness of a proper Kiwi summer amidst plenty of beachside ambience, Tui Song is an ode to – as she puts it – the “land of the free/oh not the one you think!”
Buoyed by contemplative vocals, Liautaud’s songwriting occasionally features a surprising, wistful melancholy that gives her optimistic lyrics a wry twist. The bittersweet nostalgia of On The Cusp offers a change of pace, and ushers in the quintessentially folk Sore Feet Walkin’. It’s on these paired-back tracks where Liautaud’s skill as a songwriter truly shows through; with less instrumentation, her storytelling becomes absolutely captivating.
A strong debut, Tess Liautaud’s 10-song album feels both intriguingly new and comfortingly familiar and is no doubt the first of many good things to come from the free-spirited artist.