ALBUM REVIEW: Gus Dapperton – ‘Orca’

Words by Emily Hollitt – AKA – Malina Claire

I remember the first time I ever heard Gus Dapperton’s music. I caught the video for I’m Just Snacking and was entranced by his uninhabited dance moves, his striking and distinctive look and the raspy, distinguishable timbre and tone of his unique voice. The contrast between the verses and the chorus and the ear-catching ‘80’s style synth and drums set him apart from any act currently on the scene. Fill Me Up Anthem quickly became one of my most played tracks. I became obsessed with his unrestrained, rough vocal delivery in each chorus; the way he sang in a way that wasn’t necessarily pretty or polished like much of the pop music on the scene, but purely and instinctively emotional in the way he delivered the lines. I watched countless videos of his Spooky Black cover he performed sometimes live- a track I held very dear to me covered by an artist I admired.

Last week he released his sophomore record ‘Orca’, exploring new heights for the incredible artist. Delving into themes of human pain and suffering while subsequently exploring healing and redemption, the record uses juxtaposition and sophisticated production choices to create a unique analysis of the human condition. Bottle Opener begins with his signature, anthemic gang vocals singing “you never let them get to you, I always let them get to me”. Heavy bass guitar moves beneath the vocals as a soft violin coos softly over the top. All the bustle and noise drops away as Gus’s voice enters over a simple acoustic guitar, already showing a production shift from his older works to feature more natural instrumentation. Vocal layering and repetitive lyricism build the track, using minimal lyrics to convey the message. 

“I don’t know if I’ll last until tomorrow
It’s such an arduous task to always bottle it up
If you could lend me a breath that I could borrow
Then I could give it my best and try to swallow it up”

He sings openly. Acoustic guitar carries through into the record’s second track, opening First Aid. Singing candidly about his mental health, he opens each verse with the line “Sorry ‘bout my head”. Referencing self-harm, he sings “I mend my cuts for the runt that you convinced to stay” and in the final verse he sings “I would slit his wrists and reminisce it. If it wasn’t for my sis.”. It is fitting that he mentions his sister and bandmate Amadelle as her soprano vocals feature in the track, sitting neatly above his. “I won’t forget the way you saved my life. You wrap me up” he sings about the love of his sister and how she helps him through his darkest times. Post Humorous uses a major key to create a song-of-the-summer type vibe, directly contradicting the lyrical concept of experiencing death in his childhood. “So would you make me laugh? As for my last request”. The rougher side of his voice and his emotive delivery shine in this track, overtaking the preppy sound of the instrumental with his true and overpowering emotion. The same production energy seeps through Bluebird from start to finish. Light keys and a simple, overdriven guitar riff permeate throughout the track. The drums are lively and driving, pushing the song forward. “My grave puts all the weight on hold. This grave roots all the way back home”. Kick drum and bossa nova-style classical guitar carry the introduction for Palms, an intimate story about a loved one who seemed to be struggling. ‘There’s no need to talk, I’ll read your palms”.

Intricate piano opens My Say So, featuring Australian singer/songwriter Chela. “I aim low and take the blame. You love the way that people change”, the pair sing together with a preppy and syncopated delivery. The song covers themes of personal flaw and how they come out in new relationships with different people, and how these couplings overcome that. “You hold a grudge I love you very much. You hold a gun ‘cos I’m the only one” opens Grim over minimal introduction with overdriven guitar creeping in every so often. This song is grungier than the rest of the album, yet still simple and peppy in it’s delivery, representing the ‘Grim’ referenced throughout the track. Seemingly a metaphor for mental health, the song describes how Gus strives to move past his issues and actively tries to be better, yet the ‘grim’ always tries to catch up with him. “He won’t decide my fate” he sings as he takes control of his mental health, his personal growth and his impact on others. “If he asks me to surrender, you can have all of my stuff” he sings, almost cynically, indicated that the other character in this song is someone he loves dearly, so if his mental health takes over he will leave everything to this loved one; a dark yet sweet sentiment from somebody at risk of hitting their lowest point. 

“Keep me in the chains. I bite the hand that feeds the heart… leave me in the cage. You’re reaching for a hand to hold for a while animal with no antidote” he sings in slower ballad track Antidote. “Please don’t take me back” he opens, indicating a rocky relationship where he hasn’t been his best self and is aware this behaviour is likely to return; “It’ll never be the same, I would just relapse”. His voice pleads and his emotional pain seeps through his performance in the second verse, solidifying the emotion of the track. Peppy and cheerful piano opens Medicine. “I don’t ever want to let you go, you’re the only one who lets me in” he sings, as droning bass peaks underneath, representing the darker angle of the lyrics. “You are great, you are bright, strictly radiant inside. I should have worshipped every ounce of you” he sings, transferring the love for the subject of the song brilliantly against his regret of his treatment of them. “I always say I’ll get ahead of it. But every time they try to fix me up, I get addicted to the medicine.”

Swan Song fittingly closes the album, with the title symbolising the common phrase used to describe the final performance. Closing off the ‘grave’ theme throughout the album and the ideas of losing and letting go, the track summarises the albums themes beautifully and delicately. “Why I outta set you free” he sings, suggesting the swan song could be the closer to a relationship. “Though books o God seem to think that we start here” he sings in the first verse before shifting to “Though books of Dawkins seem to think we are through”, he compares religious text with the atheist text of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, potentially critiquing wishful thinking and ‘logical’ thinking. Themes of religion and atheism are common throughout the record, comparatively comparing faith and the faithless in his reading of the world. “Put me through hell” he says to close each pre-chorus.

Through recurring themes of death, religion, spirituality, love and loss, Gus Dapperton has created a beautifully compassionate record. Perfectly exploring humanity, relationships and mental health, ‘Orca’ acts as a comfort blanket or point of reference for those struggling; for those looking for comfort and for those looking for hope. The record is an excellent sentiment to his growth as an artist and his unique and touching commentary and insight on himself and the wider world around him. 



With thanks to Positive Feedback

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