It's been a two-year stretch since Calum Newton last slipped into his solo alter-ego, Candy, spinning lo-fi dream pop around lyrics of slight listlessness. The Melbourne import had been too busy with his band of best mates, Lunatics on Pogosticks, to venture off on his own (if only temporarily). But now, Newton is out with his latest passion project, Azure, a compilation of synth and jangle pop, self-tagged as a "pay what you want" commodity. Because, first and foremost, Newton is about the music. He recorded, mixed and mastered the entire LP on his own, gravitating towards sunny melodies with nasally, punk-inspired vocals that have that vague apathy and self-loathing of '90s alternative rock. Azure is an outlet for insecurities and shortcomings that, ironically, doesn't send you into a depressive state. It's raw emotion over smooth music, and its guitar-strumming, funky interludes are catchy as hell.
First on the list of highlights is "Wasting You," with its plucky but clean-cut intro and even-keeled vocals, musing, "I'm a cloud that surrounds you / You seem to like the rain." The song revolves around a repeated mantra, "you're wasted on me," a blend of self-blame and realizing a relationship is frayed and fading. It's a fairly heavy theme that's softened by Newton's quick tempo, and a chorus of gentle "ooooh"s that build in the background (and manage to feel both inviting and foreboding). It's a track that updates the overused and often misleading line, "It's not you, it's me," because in this situation, that seems to actually be the case. Besides, "You're wasted on me," is a much better breakup excuse to swallow.
Then there's "Shallow," which perpetuates the self-scrutiny that's become the crux of Candy's new album. This is a song about romantic infatuation, not substance. Where "Wasting You" was about pulling away, "Shallow" is about chasing a fantasy. As Newton sings, "I thought I needed someone to save me / Entertain and really crave me / Shamefully in love with a manic pixie dream girl." The guitar work on the track is top notch (even when it lingers in the background), and there's even a reference to Natalie Portman in Garden State—the poster child for manic pixie dream girls, if there ever was one.
It's no surprise that Newton has pointed to groups like The Sonics when asked about his musical influences. He's gone after this gritty, early-'60s garage-rock vibe to accompany his angst, especially on the track “Fremdshämen,” which essentially describes the feeling of embarrassment from another person’s oblivious behavior. Newton filled the song with a list of resolutions—going to the gym, getting on the good side of someone’s family—and I have to say, it’s universally relatable (and also a good word to have your in vocabulary).
Aside from Bandcamp, Azure is also available in a limited cassette edition (only 70 to be exact), so if you’re feeling retro-cool, I’d hop on over to Z Tapes. It’ll be a token to hold you over as we wait for Candy’s next solo act, fingers crossed the hiatus won’t be as long this time.