Bad breakups have been the source of inspiration for countless records, and a good number of them probably split up bands too. The story was no different for Sufjan Stevens and Ariel Pink collaborator Nedelle Torrisi, who found herself out of a relationship and a group to work with. Every cloud has a silver lining, though. Three years ago she launched her own love advice column, which is now a regular video series. She also found herself with a batch of “unhinged, romantic, boy-crazy songs” and Advice From Paradise was born.
Despite Torrisi’s claim, the album isn’t completely unhinged. Sufjan Stevens once recorded a song about returning from the dead to apologise to an old flame for leaving bloodstains on the carpet after committing suicide; there’s nothing as surreal here. Instead, Torrisi’s songs share more in common with Stevens’ work on last year’s Carrie & Lowell (where Torrisi incidentally sang backing vocals). They’re “unhinged” because they’re almost devastatingly earnest but hyper-romantic. On ‘Can’t Wait’ and ‘Born to Love You’ she sings, in her own beautiful, yet quirky voice, very honestly about yearning, bordering slightly on obsession. On ‘Cathartica’ she sounds mournful that she’s “made so many changes just to be with you.” The lovelorn, heart-breaking aspect of Torrisi’s lyrics really come to the forefront when they’re accompanied solely by piano on the many alternate versions of the album’s tracks, which appear on the LP’s deluxe version. On the alternate version of ‘The Perfect Timing,’ Torrisi’s unrestrained vocals make her sound a bit like Whitney Houston at her most powerfully raw.
However, the atmosphere Torrisi creates with her carefully constructed sound is just as striking. ‘Fool Boy’ and ‘Emotional Money’ are both catchy and poppy, but also experiment with sounds and contain classical elements. Bonus track ‘The Universal Face’ embraces the swooning strings and harmonies, just making you wonder how it didn’t end up on the album proper. Comparisons to Julia Holter seem all too obvious as a result, and so it’s perhaps unsurprising that she appears to sing backing vocals on some of the album.
Torrisi is far from being an imitator though. ‘Don’t Play Dumb’ and ‘Double Horizon’ are both charmingly retro, using MIDI synths to create a playful atmosphere. On ‘Psychic Returns’ there’s violin and cello flourishes, as well as the gentle piano, and the prettiness of ‘I Love Thousands Every Summer’ is only enhanced by its smatterings of harp, only to break down into a shuddering synth climax. ‘Can’t Wait’ has smooth guitar licks and a swooning chorus that rivals anything on the latest Chairlift record. ‘Cathartica’ is the album’s most barren moment. The icy, muted synths and low key guitar bridge accompanying Torrisi’s vocals help to emphasise the sense of loss she feels. Providing something of a contrast, ‘The Show Must Go On’ is punctuated by clashing percussion and its unusual tonal shift partway through. It’s almost astonishing to hear how well the shift between the flashy, almost triumphant first half and the muted, barren second half is carried off.
It shouldn’t be so much of a surprise. Torrisi has harnessed everything she’s learned from life and her previous collaborators and turned it into a record that’s intelligent, heart-wrenching and relatable. Advice From Paradise is an album that reveals more with every repeated listen, but never seems to lose its emotional edge beneath its twists and turns.