Ferla’s ‘It’s Personal’ stunningly poses a grown-up approach to heartbreak

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Ferla’s ‘It’s Personal’ stunningly poses a grown-up approach to heartbreak

By Augustus Welby

The title of Ferla’s debut album indicates the emotional excavation contained within.

Giuliano Ferla launched the project in 2015, untying himself from the rowdy bush operatics of Twin Beasts to adopt a shiny, synth-laden sound he termed “guilt pop”. That was also the name of the Melbourne band’s first EP, which was packaged together with Stay Posi in a double-EP set in 2017.

Both releases walked through the flames of a difficult breakup. Breakup songs aren’t in short supply, but Ferla’s rendering of relationship decay displayed macro perspective while also being idiosyncratically particular.

Things haven’t changed much on It’s Personal, which starts off trying to quell desire. “Don’t want for just a little while,” the singer proposes on opener, ‘Don’t Want’. It’s more of a vignette than a song, establishing the mise en scène for the events ahead.

A sense of rootlessness quickly emerges. “What’s there when you don’t want nothing at all?” goes the chorus, introducing us to Ferla’s sweeping higher register. From here we’re taken on an allegorical tour of what sparked the attempted abstinence.

‘I’m Fine’ is a spruce but brooding number that’s fit for ’80s pop radio. There’s been a breakup and he’s figuring out to cope (the subtext being that, really, he’s not coping at all). ‘Unconditional Love’ steps away from playlist-friendly indie pop to display the band’s off-kilter strengths. The tempo pulls back and Kate Monger’s wonky synth takes centre stage. Beneath the haze, it’s a magnetically melodic number that makes a case for self-love.

‘You Were There, Jim’ departs from the record’s central narrative to recall a surrealistic nightmare. We’re taken into a town full of “ghosts and corrugated tin”, where the cathedral has an adjoining gift shop and a group of boys “say their prayers without a noise”.

The sensory immersion is complemented by the band’s just-too-slow delivery. The chorus revolves around one of Ferla’s pithiest lyrics, which suggests he’s unable to disregard the inner turmoil: “I let you walk into my life/Like a man falls onto a knife.”

‘Voodoo’ and ‘The Human Heart’ kick off side B. Both are hooky and immediate indie rock numbers, which syncs with the thematic emphasis on moving on and rekindling romantic lust.  

The record culminates with two slower and more sensually evocative compositions, which is the band’s forte. ‘Out of Style’ is a filmy soft rock number that begs to be paired with melodramatic visuals. Penultimate track, ‘Flying Solo’, acts as a précis of the band’s catalogue so far.

The breakup doesn’t hurt because of some prurient obsession. It’s the loss of connection that really stings. “Let’s skip the sex and go straight to the pillow talk/Because it’s the intimacy that I miss.”

‘Don’t Want End’ returns to wrap things up, only this time a downcast baritone replaces the booming vocals of the earlier version. It’s Personal mightn’t arrive at a satisfying resolution, but when a quaking heart produces such high-class songwriting, there’s really nothing to complain about.