Words by Kate Lockyer
Australian pop artist Josef Salvat’s latest album has the compelling melodies and aesthetic of a modern pop album, while at the same time delivering an honest testimony of love and identity. Released earlier this month, ‘modern anxiety’ is a reflection on the tempestuous love life of his twenties. Spilling out of his diary and into his music, these songs tell the story of a gay man who had turned to relationships to make sense of a modern world hung up on masculinity and success. ‘This record,’ he says, ‘is about the search for empathy and compassion, kindness and connection, and the conclusion that it is quite absent in our social exchanges these days.’
Metallic and sharp. The first thing you notice about this album is the slick electronic exterior, already evoking the cool detachment to be found in modern society. However, when you delve deeper into the songs, the lyrics are anything but impersonal.
The title track, modern anxiety, begins with the blaring of car horns, the busyness of traffic, and immediately you’re drawn into the confusion and turmoil of the rat race. Then the beat begins and the song comes to life. Salvat’s vocals begin as harmonies, with reverb and echoes sounding like voices in your head – like anxiety. “Last night I was handsome, drunk and young / Today I don’t know who I’m trying to be”, he sings, “I think they call this modern anxiety / This modern life is getting the best of me”. Salvat comments on the ways we escape uncertainty and insecurities in the 21st Century, but he does it in style, with a catchy dance track you can move to.
For Salvat, this album is a way of telling his story, connecting with the love he lost and found in his relationships. ‘These are a series of postcards, snapshots of my life,’ he says. ‘Music is my way of finding out who I am.’ Salvat sings about both the lighter and darker sides of relationships, holding nothing back. Call on me is a lo-fi tune about bad habits and straying from your intentions, with lyrics like “Intimacy every night / Don’t really like / Just need to be needed” and “I got lost on the way to you”. Salvat’s husky, and at times breathy, voice stings of desperation.
In the afternoon is a more carefree track, about all of the little things that a person can fall in love with. The laidback beat and catchy guitar riff help give the song the contented glow of a sunny weekend at home. “You like your oceans cold and your days hot / And I like you / You don’t like politics but you know a lot / And I like you”. This is the most feelgood song on the album thanks to Salvat’s tender lyrics.
Playground love is another song that helps Salvat make sense of his identity, with its subtle commentary framed around childhood games. Stripped back, this track almost entirely consists of his vocals, with only subdued synth and sparse percussion later on. “Run fast from the kids with emotions / Play hide and seek / Come back when they’re lost and they’re lonely / They just wanna love someone”. Even as children, boys are taught to avoid emotion, and Salvat touches on the way this masculine expectation follows them through their life. The simplicity and vulnerability of his voice in this song makes it a heartbreaker.
”Who am I?” and “Who are you?” The idea that Salvat is still searching for his place is clear in the juxtaposed questions asked in paper moons and human. Paper moons follows the inner conflict felt when someone you care about is unable to break themselves out of a cycle of addiction, while human questions why we go back to people who will never respect us. In paper moons, awash with synth and muted percussion that folds to vocal harmonies at the start of the chorus, Salvat sings “I’m not your father, not your cure / Who am I to stand in your way?”. The following song on the album, human, is an anguished piano ballad. It instead questions the people around him. “You are the risk that I am taking now / You are the rule that I will break somehow / Who are you to underestimate me like you do?”
While this album may not have given Salvat the answers he is looking for, he is asking the right questions. His unique electronic-pop style and retrospective lyrics are a treat for the ears and a feast for the soul. modern anxiety has never been more relevant than right now.
‘modern anxiety’ is out now via Liberation Records
With thanks to Liberation Records + mushroom