A blastoma is a type of cancer which is most commonly seen in children. For Sydney-based and Papua New Guinea-born singer Ngaiire, the decision to name her new album after the disease stems from her own childhood health issues, and it frames the darker corners of what’s now her second album of fearlessly honest future soul.
Blastoma goes deeper than its predecessor, 2013’s Lamentations. It’s more bodily. It speaks of emotional pain, but also physical stress — bodies breaking, bodies tearing, skin being shed — all against backdrops of ice, hard rock, lost faith and graves being dug.
Blastoma shines when these themes and images are put up against harsh synths, belly-aching bass lines and rolling percussion, like on album highlight House On A Rock, where Ngaiire muses on broken bodies and “recycled prayers”. The track’s anger is carried in ever-so-slightly pissed-off vocals, before punchy pop hooks open up the mix.
Like Lamentations, Blastoma is a product of collaboration, this time with Ngaiire’s longtime producer pals Paul Mac and Jack Grace. There’s also songwriting contributions from Megan Washington on two tracks, but the album’s most captivating parts arrive when Ngaiire’s vocal talents stand centre stage, bathed in either dirty synths or swells of emotion.
Blastoma’s latest single Diggin is one of the album’s more danceable cuts, pairing themes of isolation with intricate vocal rhythms. It’s easy to compare it to some of Little Dragon’s material, but like other tracks on Blastoma its instrumentation isn’t all that inspiring when put up against the synth-pop’s heavy hitters.
Blastoma’s best moments are its moments of abandon, when Ngaiire lets go and the instrumentation behind her is imperfect and expansive. With only nine songs on the album, these moments are relatively sparse, but they are impressive.
Album closer Fall Into My Arms is a stunning gospel track backed by a piano and a slow-clapping choir. It’s redemptive, uplifting, hymn-like and upfront in its acceptance of life’s tribulations. It’s where Ngaiire’s vocals finally float around in free space on Blastoma, instead of being restricted by kitschy synths and hollow mixes on tracks like Cruel and Many Things.
The cover art for Blastoma appears to show Ngaiire switching between various masks — versions of herself and her own body — like we all do. This album is a brief look behind those masks, at Ngaiire’s emotions, her faith, her experiences of pain, the places she knows. Each version of herself tells its own story, but Blastoma’s strength is its ability to bring those stories together to create a passionate tale of loss and redemption.
Blastoma is out on Friday, 10th June, with Ngaiire’s national album tour to kick off on 17th June ahead of her set at Splendour In The Grass in July.
Watch: Ngaiire – Diggin