Dear Fantasia Famish,
In this whirlwind of a year, you showed up in my life like a fresh breeze. Given that you’re my album of the year 2020, I want you to know how much I appreciated you this year (and still do).
As the debut album for Melbourne’s Agnes Manners, you were a stunning delight. While it’s not completely a surprise that you were so rich with meaning and emotion, given that your creator (Matthew Gravolin) has already shown his penchant for that via Hellions and his poetry books Permanent Swim and All’s Well That Ends., there was nothing that felt ‘already done’ or tired. I said ‘fresh’ and I meant it.
You begin with an adoring twinkle in your eyes. “Evergreen” takes me by the hand and allows for a vicarious swim in the buzzing abandon of new love. It’s effective, Fantasia Famish, because I just want to dance around with you in this vibe. With glowing hieroglyphics described in the lyrics forming stepping stones of an establishing bond, the nudge of obligations is never far away, making this feel beautifully relatable and authentic. Love indeed has a soapy surrounding bubble, and real life begins to tap on its fragile surface soon enough.
More steeped in seriousness, “As Long As You’re Mine” adds the ‘am I enough?’ whispers that arise in the saxophone dreaminess of that new love. With the warm chorus and the presence of sunshine and heart-soaring faith, it feels freeing in its all-in surrender to whatever ‘if’s should arise. Fantasia Famish, you’ve somehow captured the essence of unconditional love without it coming across as cheesy.
Set amongst background chatter, the way “Sincerity In Retrograde” sits and observes and questions what the fuck we’re all doing – our noses to our phones, the way we strive to curate in a digital world, our heaving sacks of insecurities swung over our backs – is both endearing and uniting in the way we’re all simultaneously lost in the noise and stress. The song tiptoes slowly toward a tragic end, before slapping itself back to deciding to allow this game of life to just be played. My god this is relatable.
Like a boat on a stream, it’s three songs in and we’ve rowed through rough waters already, and the beauty of this invitation to drift along with you can’t be understated. The vulnerability (especially as we float soundlessly into “Brilliant Blue”) is almost too much to bear; a tender-voiced platter of life as it is, with its loops, links, losses, laments. I weep with you too, courtesy of the string sweetness that ribbons through a skipping beat.
I get it, Fantasia Famish. You’re trying but it’s hard and it hurts. And in this instance you allow the hurt to step from the porch and into your home and heart. Just for a moment. Because maybe it’ll hurt less that way.
Without fanfare or frills after a meaningful moment, “Lime Light” sits and shares itself. It’s a breather of a moment before a dramatic flash of dark velvet reveals “Spiced Plum and Cherry”. Every time I hear this song, I’m taken into an imaginary world of a stage show, where reflected light, eerie shadows, and a silken scarf kind of bleed of majestic proportions is presented. A taloned hand grasps a goblet and waves of regret and discomfort wash over the scene. It’s as achingly dramatic as much as it could feature refined, choreographed movements. Fantasia Famish, your balance between real and mystique is perfect, in my opinion.
Otherworldly, the French singing and altered voice samples are disorienting, sliding into the high and clear whistling “Sydney”. For such a short piece of music, “Sydney” is a fireball of emotion hey? It’s a full stop, a line drawn in the sand (and vomited upon), a decision made, frustrations purged. I sit, paused in introspection with “Where the fuck are all my friends?” reverberating in my mind, wanting to play with the idea like a ball, but it’s not time to sink down, because “The Young Man and The Seed” has arrived in its high wisdom.
Gently chiding but also encouraging, the song looks upward to dark stormy clouds above and sees them as a warning, while also pointing toward the sun that shines behind them. You keep talking about sun, Fantasia Famish, and I love that you remind me that it’s still there, in its broadest metaphorical sense. Life lessons float by breezily and easily and for this, you’ve been an important companion on long drives for me.
Can I tell you, Fantasia Famish, that once, your non-judgemental and loving hues broke me out of an anxiety attack? I put on a Spotify Daily Mix and there you were and suddenly I was okay and I could breathe again. You’re a little bit magical like that.
A spark of something like activism pricks up your feisty little Fantasia Famish ears with “Forest Swing”. The blend of voices speaks to the masculine and feminine energies that swirl within me, with them encouraged to surface with my own unique recipe. “Soften that tongue and settle your blood” you ooze, and I feel this to my core; the importance of sinking in to what’s actually genuine and true to me, instead of being reactive with those energies. We all have our little hells, and you know this too.
The (former) IT nerd and also the Piscean in me adores that “Worship” begins with the question “Does the brain corrupt?”. Similar to “Sincerity in Retrograde”, the dreamy track follows a thread of human nature and asks questions about it. Fantasia Famish, you’re like a scientist looking at us all under the microscope, while simultaneously tripping over your own existence. While musing on our collective circling of drains, in instrumental fabulousness, you form a sky-high ride above the clouds (for me at least). How do you delve into the grit of life so authentically while sounding so far above it?
It’s the open spaces in “The Old Man and The Sea” that hit hardest for me, and the emotion that coats Matthew’s voice as he speaks about his father, who in this song seems like a beloved character of an ocean-bound fable. The searching orchestration cuts painfully, while the song is as neverendingly wave-like as its watery subject matter. The realness of this ‘story’ hits home with the use of an audio clip from Matthew’s father’s funeral.
Fantasia Famish, you let us in to one of the rawest moments of this journey of life and showed it without flinching. How are you so brave?
I remember when lines from “Mangosteen Foothills” were in poetry notes that Matthew had shared on his Instagram story. There’s something beautifully full circle about this, that these poetic seeds are now bearing juicy fruit, literally. What a delightful finale to this story of an album, especially with the waywardness itself leading to the song’s closing spontaneous moment of high gratitude.
Fantasia Famish, you want nothing of us and you stand beautifully in the crosshairs of life and allow us to witness you. You’ve tumbled around under rough seas and strong currents, before being washed up as a smoothed stone, resting quietly under a fragrant tree in a tropical paradise. You remind me that the tragedies and the dark moments are part of what shapes us, and not the entire story. You remind me that life goes on, in its nonsensical, wonderful ways.
Fantasia Famish, you’ve shared your songs while I’ve journalled by candlelight, and I’ve sung along with you while dancing around my house or in my car. You’re a reassurance, a slice of acceptance, a warm presence in a cold and uncertain year. I keep learning from you. Hearing nuances that I’d missed on the many listens prior, or having understanding suddenly click into place. There is rewarding depth to who you are.
I’ve tried to word your importance, when it’s not really words that matter at all, it’s what is felt. For what I’ve felt in response to you, Fantasia Famish, thank you, thank you, thank you.
I love you.