Album Of The Week: SAFIA - 'Internal'

Written By Matthew Fiacchi on 09/05/2016

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It’s hard to believe that Internal is SAFIA’s first album. The Canberra three-piece have been a mainstay of the Australian indie scene for what feels like an eternity, playing sold out shows and pulling huge festival crowds off the back of classic tracks like Listen To Soul, Listen To Blues and their (still-killer!) Peking Duk feature Take Me Over.

First thing to note: Internal keeps up the high quality the trio have set for themselves. While tracks like the euphoric Together, Locked Safely and the excellent, club-ready Close To You call to mind artists like Disclosure and even home-grown acts like Peking Duk, to write SAFIA off as ‘another…’ or ‘the next…’ is to do them a disservice. These guys have a personality and a vibe which is totally their own, and it absolutely shines on this record. Their debut is intriguing, high quality and effortlessly cool.

On Internal, the boys have found that sweet spot all ‘emerging’ artists dream of – catchy, radio-friendly lyrics and lush, pumping soundscapes wrapped in a distinctly ‘SAFIA’ sound. Each track feels lovingly crafted, never outstays its welcome and never becomes stale or repetitive. The band’s DNA runs through the entire album from start to finish, giving the album a boldness and assuredness many artists can take two or three albums to achieve.

It must be noted that the vocal delivery on Internal is a big part of this. With a range that extends from a deep growl to a twangy, fluttery falsetto, frontman Ben Woolner’s instantly recognisable, almost John Newman-like voice helps keep things from derailing on some of the album’s weirder moments, and ties the album together nicely.

Internal explores a bunch of different influences which, in less capable hands, could have turned the album into a mess of competing sounds. Indeed, the production on this album is top-notch, smart and deeply satisfying. In just under 51 minutes, SAFIA successfully dabble in House, RnB, Pop and even more cinematic moments, providing an album which is as surprising as is it impressive.

Album opener Zion starts off as a sweeping, almost movie-like trip above the rainforest, before transforming effortlessly into the kind of track that will have concert-goers jumping, and back again. Elsewhere, on the not-quite-a-ballad Fake It Til The Sunrise and the guitar-led Go To Waste, Ben’s soulful, longing vocals are front and centre, providing some of the album’s most vulnerable moments.

There’s crossover potential in the groovy, ~dare I say~, banger My Love Is Gone and the smooth, summery Embracing Me, while tracks like Bye Bye and Make Them Wheels Roll show off the band’s more avant-garde side. Album closer External sounds almost like an amalgamation of every preceding track. Production-wise, it’s a look back at the rest of the album, while lyrically it sounds as though the boys are looking ahead to whatever comes next.

I said it at the start of this review, and I’ll say it again:  it's hard to believe this is a debut album. With Internal, SAFIA have casually given us one of the best Australian albums of 2016. Expect to hear at least half of Internal during next year’s Hottest 100, and if the boys don’t pick up at least one ARIA nom I’ll owe you all a beer (bookmark me, I dare you!). In his interview with the interns, Ben mentioned how SAFIA have grown and improved with each new release. If Internal is any indication of where the boys are headed, consider me excited.