Freak-pop parts

ÚMBRIEL

Metro Arts, New Benner Theatre

October 29

ÚMBRIEL is an electronic, art-pop quartet whose show occupies a niche position in the Queensland Cabaret Festival and Metro Arts’ Cabaret Long Weekend. Indeed, the nuanced artistic work may not be to more mainstream audience members liking. However, given the fan following obviously out in force, it hardly seems to matter.

The captivating ritualistic aesthetic experience begins from pre-show entry in the visually immersive space of the New Benner Theatre. From a Gothically-glad lead vocalist (James Halloran, whose musical persona is ÚMBRIEL) collapsed afront the projected image of a single wilting flower, things chant into a dreamy music experience. After a slow build comes release of beats and guttural belt of industrial rock with English alternative rock musician PJ Harvey’s ‘To Bring You My Love’. The music is like a thumping intoxication into the intimate musical backdrop upon which the vocals rest. Indeed, sweeping instrumentals only add to the drama of the orchestral theatricality.

The 2020 single ‘Desire’ is made all the more emotionally enchanting through its melodic sweeps and percussive pounds. It also allows for show of the softer side of Halloran’s versatile vocals. From fluid soar to fragmented jaggedness, they shape each song with appropriate emotions of yearning, lust or anger. However, with little at-mic punctuation of the setlist, there is no opportunity for uninitiated audience members to connect with the flamboyant performance. Similarly, while there is a certainly an appeal to lyrically descriptive phrases such as “he drinks my moans and drowns me deep”, the layer of hyperbolically metaphors upon each other makes it difficult to find light and shade moments in which to rest and reflect.

Many musical influences are evident at different times across every part of the setlist, from Nick Cave and Kate Bush to Stevie Nicks, Tori Amos and even some New Romantic sounds of pathos, such as in ‘Renegade’. And, through them, ÚMBRIEL provides audiences with a more ritualistic offering than the typical cabaret fare. The part-rock show part-ritual cabaret is an acquired freak-pop (as is its trademark) taste and while the show is perhaps mesmerising more than arresting in its melodies, the fan-base audience celebrates every piece of its sonic artistry.

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