A solid album
“Terra firma” is Latin. It means solid ground, firm earth beneath your feet. It’s often used to denote stability, safety and a lack of risk, as opposed to the thoroughly more dangerous air or water. Tash Sultana uses their multi-instrumental talent to evoke this feeling emotionally in their second studio album, Terra Firma. Even on a casual listen, the music is both grounded and smooth, real and ethereal, a beauty in not simplicity but an understandable, true complexity.
There are a lot of tracks on this album that could easily find a home in some kind of artistic short film about the old west. The way the guitar strum patterns line up with a glum-yet-hopeful mood in the melodies, a bit of twang, the sense of a grounded openness, all of this is extremely well exemplified in Terra Firma’s eighth track “Coma.” The track would be well suited playing over a scene of a lone vaquero riding their horse across the plain as the sun rises or sets in the background. The lyrics touch on a fraught relationship and a brief mention of the topic of substance abuse, but the real star is the emotion conjured by the instrumentals alone.
Sultana displays a level of compositional talent that really sells the deeply emotional topics they touch upon. Trying to pick out every instrument on Terra Firma is a tall task for all but the most trained ears, not just because of their multitude but because of their integration. The mix on songs like “Blame It on Society” blends different timbres of many different instruments and backing vocals into one unified soundscape. Musical elements from modern pop are incorporated without being unoriginal or derivative, and always with Sultana’s distinct stylings over top—for instance, the drum pattern in “Sweet & Dandy” at times almost sounds like a stuttering trap or hip-hop beat.
There are two credited features on Terra Firma, the first being singer-songwriter Josh Cashman on the song “Dream My Life Away.” The other feature is Jerome Farah. Farah is an Australian rapper who debuted last year, tackling heavy topics specifically revolving around racism and police brutality. He doesn’t delve into those specific areas on his feature on the song “Willow Tree,” but he does blend his voice well with Sultans’s style while talking about the trappings of fame and the way that people’s attitudes shift towards someone who has gained celebrity.
The album can at times be upbeat or emotionally intense or catchy and bright, or any combination of the three, but for the final song, “I Am Free,” Sultana lets the emotions settle and evokes a calm, relaxed, relieved vibe with their voice declaring that they are free from material obsessions, a bold stance that is as inspiring as it is well-composed. This could be a lullaby, or this could be a pump-up song, and it would keep the same message every day. It’s evocative and encapsulates the feel of the album perfectly while giving it an amazing note to end on.