Some of her most emotive songs yet
Luke Ballance
22:30 12th May 2022

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Brisbane native Grace “Mallrat” Shaw has spent the past few years gradually perfecting a home-cooked recipe for breezy, optimistic indie-pop, working her way up to multi-platinum certification in her home country in the process. On her debut album Butterfly Blue, the 23-year-old has cranked up the amplifiers, threading electric guitars through her autobiographical outpourings to result in some of her most emotive songs yet.

Bound by a number of common traits – namely introspective lyrics, fluttering synth pads, unfinished cadences and, in its final throes, melancholy acoustic arpeggios – Butterfly Blue makes for a concise and cohesive listening experience, humbly chronicling the ups and downs of its narrator’s journeys in and out of love. At times achingly raw and at others tactful and witty, it’s a wonderfully self-aware, diaristic encapsulation of everything from fleeting feelings to blossoming romance, complemented by an array of floaty, often drumless beats. 

For an album so refined, its list of personnel is unusually diverse: the producers involved include British cult favourite Jam City, who cut his teeth in the game via revolutionary club imprint Night Slugs before going on to work with superstars like Olivia Rodrigo and Troye Sivan; Byron Bay beatmaker Styalz Fuego, who counts Ty Dolla $ign and Wiley among his past collaborators; and Shaw herself, who vows: “Producing a whole album myself is something I can do in a couple of albums' time”. For now, she’s settled for three co-production credits: 'Your Love', 'Heart Guitar' and 'Butterfly Blue'. The former is, in all honesty, the album’s least inspiring moment, its abrupt, synthetic choir samples and repetitive hook soon proving cloying. The latter two, however, are absolute triumphs. Sounding genuinely spellbinding thanks to their minimalist arrangements, they feel like pivotal moments in the album’s overarching story, leaving listeners hanging on every word.

Sonically, Butterfly Blue is slower and more measured than the Australian singer’s career-defining early works like 'Groceries', and both her voice and the instrumentals underneath her have audibly matured in that time. Shedding the heavy-handed nods to house and hip-hop that often cropped up in her formative oeuvre, here she expresses her love for rap in a more organic way, letting Azealia Banks handle the wordplay on the thumping team-up 'Surprise Me' to create an atypically club-friendly number. Sure, Banks’ verse is a little at odds with the rest of the LP (references to Nicole Kidman’s plastic surgery and the demise of disgraced comedian Louis C.K. are quite the contrast from Mallrat’s heart-on-her-sleeve reflections), but it does make sense when you look at the album in the right light.

Shaw reportedly drew upon two key concepts while writing Butterfly Blue – “angel choirs and monster trucks” – and 'Surprise Me' falls squarely in the latter category. Over the course of the album, she manages to find beauty in the juxtaposition of the two; she even leans into this theme in the cover art, sporting a baby blue dress and huge platform boots that give an indication of the contrasts to come. The darkly sensual 'Teeth', for instance, is a rumbling, distorted number unlike anything we’ve heard from Mallrat before, its indie rock inclinations revealing an unforeseen trick up her sleeve. It’s followed by 'I’m Not My Body, It’s Mine', an intimate, folky offering which introduces itself with hymnal harmonies before springing into a series of empowering reflections on her mental health.

On paper, this should sound disjointed; even incongruous—but the real thing works surprisingly well. In documenting all the butterflies she’s been feeling over the past few years, she’s not hastened to explain the reasons they might have dissipated, serving as a kind of sobering counterweight to the idyllic sentiments found elsewhere on the LP. The grungy rock influences interspersed throughout the album seem to speak to this, too; love can be giddying, but getting there – and staying there – can also be rough round the edges, and that reality isn’t something Mallrat is afraid to unpack. It’s clear to see why this refreshingly honest, yet hopeful outlook on relationships has been a key factor in cementing her stardom in her homeland; the rest of the world would be wise to catch up.

Butterfly Blue arrives 13 May via Nettwerk.

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Photo: Press