To put it simply, 'Blue Flower' is authentic. It’s messy, it’s angry and it’s real. The sophomore album from El Fuko encapsulates a chaotic world of heartbreak, criticism and vulnerability, and it’s a welcomed breath of fresh air. El Fuko is a project started by Oliver Shaw and Jayden Hebbard that not only showcases their artistic strengths, but also the intimate bond involved with a creative project such as this. The pair complement each other in a way that few could ever dream of doing, with Oliver’s literal and entrancing poetry augmented by Jayden’s musical wizardry. Together, they take you on an amazing journey with El Fuko as your eccentric, unpredictable captain.
'Blue Flower', from start to finish, tells a story. Oliver’s writing creates cinematic style imagery and allows the listener to fully immerse themselves in the experience, if they chose to. This is not something that can just be put on in the background. 'Blue Flower' draws upon musical greats such as Chet Baker, carefully constructing melodies to support the spoken word poetry, amplifying and subsiding the raw emotion encapsulated by Oliver’s writing.
The album clearly displays an intimate working and personal relationship between Oliver and Jayden. As someone who creatively struggles to open up to other people, I could feel this warming and personal connection between them while listening to the album. Discussing with the guys about their creative partnership, Jayden stated, “My relationship and collaboration with Oliver is unlike anyone I have ever met. It’s taken a lot of love and it’s also grown a lot of love. I don’t know what intimacy really is, but I feel like we got close to it.” It is so clear while listening to the album that there is an unbridled connection between Oliver and Jayden, and it's so inviting to listen to. Being their second album, they have had time to develop their connection as creators. While their first album showed the similarities in the pair, 'Blue Flower' displays a massive leap that they have taken in their personal connection with one another.
“It’s not to say that the first album wasn’t an intimate process, it was intimate in the way that we were just getting to know each other’s ins and outs with how each other works.” Says Jayden, “The second album was intimate in a way that we were physically living together and we knew each other emotionally and we knew that something had to happen, we had to get something out... As housemates and friends, they were things [we] were intensely talking about. We had many afternoons just sitting there talking about this thing that we had to do and the time to just, do it. That was what was fairly different from the first process. We were able to get to the nuts and bolts of the album before we actually started working on it.”
The opening track of the album, You’re So Beautiful Man lures you into their spider web, and traps your attention immediately. Evocative of artists such as Tom Waits, the gritty and rhythmic vocals are an open letter to the listener. Jayden stated, “For me, this track was ‘Do you want to stay for this album, or do you want to leave?’... Instead of pulling back, it was us going a little bit harder.” There is no music behind Oliver’s poetry, and it definitely showcases the idea that less is more. “I was in a position where I could have made music along with it like all the other tracks on the album,” Discusses Jayden, “I thought it was strong enough on its own and a statement to start with, especially talking to Oliver about what it was all about.”
From track to track, the music in each song builds and has a clear crescendo across the album. Jayden has a way of helping command full attention to Oliver’s poetry without ever distracting from it. In particular, Looking For An Angel and The Embodiment of Life, showcase a journey, not just with the writing but with the music. When discussing Looking For An Angel, Oliver explained, “That was like me, in a room where we lived having a really hard moment and quite literally trying to summon angels out of the darkness,” and The Embodiment of Life is focusing on “Coming back to the body and finding things in the physical word to hold onto.“ Jayden does a fantastic job of amplifying the literal meaning of Oliver’s poetry. The dissonant vocal chording creates an unsettling feeling, which is ambivalent of the situation that Oliver is painting lyrically. It perfectly marries together the ethereal concept of something heavenly to guide us, but the inharmonious melody grounds us in our metaphysical thoughts. The use of the organ in The Embodiment of Life intensifies the references to heavenly beings, while Oliver’s words help to ground us in the realm of the physical. Everything in those songs is gritty, the vocals and the harmonies, which I thought made it more beautiful.
Taking those ideas of flawed and erratic tonality of the music, it’s important to recognise that at its core, El Fuko is, well, a fuck you to perfection. El Fuko describes itself as, “The antithesis of perfection." This idea is not a revelation nor is it meant to be ground breaking, but I think there is an expectancy for creatives and artists to strive for perfection in their work (I know I try to in my personal creative endeavours), and this smashes the mould of those expectations.
Discussing with Oliver what made them specifically advocate for imperfection, he stated, “Last year I did my masters at NIDA and it’s a place that is very formal and they are trying to teach you to strive for perfection. But for some reason, no matter how hard I try to grab hold of perfection, whether it’s from a narrative perspective or learning an instrument correctly, I just don’t have it in me to give any shits at all. I just don’t have it in me, but it’s something I want to have. So instead of thinking ‘I’m going to battle to find that’, I just found that if I’m not going to do this perfect thing, then I really need to understand what is the opposite of perfection and kind of understand that space and become comfortable in that space of imperfection and understand what that is doing. El Fuko is a space to explore that.” Jayden also added that, “I think a beautiful part of this collaboration is we both try and find a place of imperfection that works.”
The idea of perfection is quite playfully talked about with a very edifying style of humour used by Oliver in his writing, especially in the tracks Love Is Back In Vogue and 'Blue Flower'. The title Love Is Back In Vogue in of itself already displays the evident and relatable comedy that Oliver demonstrates in his writing but plays on the idea that there is a cyclical nature to perfection and the fragility of its overall concept. Perfection is constantly changing and it's almost unsustainable in its rapid evolution. We can't keep up with what is deemed perfect, and the song really augments their rebellion against the particular concept. 'Blue Flower' also plays on this concept, not in just a metaphorical sense, but in the way Oliver structures his thoughts while writing. ‘Did you leave some traces in Woolies?’ and ‘I’ll go looking for you in the carrots’ are two completely mundane phrases, but the thought of putting it into a song, something that is thought of as being a meticulous structure is such a subtle fuck you to the concepts of perfection. It creates something relatable and obtainable, making it so much more inviting to the listener.
My favourite thing learning about this album was discovering that El Fuko is not just a creative collaboration between Oliver and Jayden, El Fuko is a spirit that we can all embody. Although Oliver is the voice of El Fuko, he is something that can be personified by each of us. When asking the guys about the character, Jayden said that, "He is a very, very good man. After we created a character that became a part of the second album, we started using this spirit of El Fuko to lead us into certain situations, this idea of ‘the good man who helps us out.”
“There is a chance that he is a completely genderless character,” discusses Oliver, “The character was at least discovered in a queer, cowboy kind of style of event. I don’t know what kind of human qualities this character has but he certainly has a lot of characteristics that are both human and non-human.” The creation of this album for a much more spiritual side to El Fuko, with the guys talking about how at the start of each recording session, they would start with a simple ceremony, to help them delve into the mind space needed for El Fuko but to summon the good man himself.
The final track of the album has an specific ambience not seen in the rest of the album. The track was recorded on Brunswick St in the early hours of the morning, and the final mix has the sounds of cars, the wind and pages of Oliver's notebook turning throughout the track. Higher Gods (Calling Higher Gods) captures the sun rising on a new day and is an incredible end to this album. You can imagine the sun rising in the distance, starting filling the sky with soft pink and orange hues as you listen, and I know personally, the track felt like a new beginning erupting on the horizon. “We set up in our little spots on the street and we just decided to do this snare drum and vocal delivery together… I thought my only way to really attack it was to close my eyes and try to riff off what Oliver was saying and really go with that. There was a real nervousness with that take." They discussed it being a particularly difficult track to record, with multiple takes before this on the same night, none of which felt right. Recording this track was a literal breath of fresh air for the two, allowing them to embrace the cool night air and finally manifested into something truly special. “There ended up being some really special moments where the wind was just as important as a musical component as we were.”
'Blue Flower' is something totally unique, and as a listener, I was truly engrossed. There is something so entrancing hearing two artistic minds work together to create a piece of art with so many layers, and it's clear that the partnership between Jayden and Oliver in completely personal, allowing each other to trust each other completely and welcome us into their space cowboy delirium. El Fuko will resonate with you for a long time. It premiered on Friday the 16th of October and it is available on Cassette via Bandcamp here, and on Spotify.