Begin To Look Around comes in as strong as a June wind and swirls with pop melodrama and nostalgia.
The debut album from Melbourne’s Gretta Ray, as a collection, soundtracks the moments of clarity that arrive on the other side of relationship trauma. Some parts, where hindsight is 20/20, sound like they were written by a knowing voice of lucidity; the big sister within all of us.
Recorded in Melbourne and London a year before and during the global pandemic (in 2019 and 2020), the album marks a turning point for Gretta Ray. While very much written with the fan in mind—a voracious music lover of all genres who wants to live life twice—it’s also clear this record is an indulgence for Gretta, an opportunity for her to explore new terrain and touch on the things that scare her.
There are moments of pure beauty: the string section on romanticist rush “The Brink”, the pre-chorus in “Cherish”, along with the song’s final lyric: “It’d be so brave of me to walk away”, and the marked restraint in the chorus of “Bigger Than Me”. The aforementioned is one of Gretta Ray’s magical traits: her ability to meet the option to go for a Lady Gaga-esque vocal display and decide to take a different path. Gretta Ray’s songwriting superpower is in her unexpected choices.
Scattered tips of her hat to performance poetry (“Care Less”, “Learning You”) show off Gretta’s troubadour layers. Meanwhile, her love of Gang of Youths shines bright in tracks like “Paris”, about the beauty in solitude, and “Cherish”, an album highlight with its building guitars and spiritual crises.
Gang of Youths even have a production credit on the track “Worldly-wise”, written during Gretta’s support tour with the band in 2018. And in a beautiful full-circle moment, the song also features frontman David Le’aupepe on guest vocals for the chorus; the pair sing: “Broaden your mind/ widen your horizon and lift your eyes/ Are you ready to roll and go along for the ride?”
Later, the slow build of “Love Me Right” is the perfect penultimate fist-pumper. Serving as the longest track on the album (a spot usually reserved for the biggest display of self-gratification), it’s light and summery on the surface but a dark, fiery hell of forlorn desperation underneath.
It could be said that Begin To Look Around is about a feckless love interest and losing one’s own core in an effort to make a relationship work. And lyrically that may be true. But with surprising arrangements and buttery vocals—all written on Gretta Ray’s own terms and standing starkly with her back to musical trends—it’s so much more than that.
Gretta Ray’s debut album Begin To Look Around is out now.
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