Track x Track: SAFIA - A Lover's Guide To A Lucid Dream
Beloved Canberra-based electronic trio take us through stunning their third album track by track
For more than a decade now, SAFIA have been crafting intricate, engaging and hypnotic electronic pop sounds, drawing inspiration from a wide range of genres and styles while keeping an emphasis on the melodious and luscious side.
After releasing their acclaimed sophomore album Story’s Start or End in 2019, the trio couldn’t have predicted how foreshadowing that album title would become in regards to their third full length. Starting work on their new album soon after their second was released, the band found themselves hitting wall after wall when it came to ending these new compositions and in turn a full album.
“We were trying to work the songs into submission,” vocalist and keyboardist Ben Woolner says. “Trying to fit a square peg in a round hole”. This experience would have a greater impact than first expected, with Woolner explaining “there was a point when all music didn't sound like music anymore,” Woolner says. “I do remember distinctly that I couldn't listen to anything on the radio – even music I knew was good. It just didn't sound like music anymore. It sounded like parts or pieces, because I had just gone so far into desperately trying to put this perfect thing together.”
After a period of time, Woolner and co. realised how to overcome this - the classic “easier said than done” approach of letting things go and trusting your gut instincts. After managing to do this, the album began to fall into place, with the result their deepest and most memorable album to date. Across 14 tracks, the trio explores dreams and reality and the loss and reclamation of identity, with the album’s flow reflective of moving from “surreal night to the soft breaking of the day”.
To celebrate the release of A Lover’s Guide To A Lucid Dream, SAFIA were kind enough to take us through it track by track - listen and get to know!
A Lover’s Guide To A Lucid Dream
This song is about being swept up in the whirlwind that is love. It explores both the good and bad and the feeling that you're in a kind of surreal dream. It's inspired by Japanese story tellers such as Haruki Murakami and Studio Ghibli in the sense that it doesn't follow a traditional linear narrative. Instead, it's more like a dream with a central theme where things flow in and out and naturally change in an almost fluid like motion as the story progresses. The main melody of the song acts as this central motif but surrounding it is constantly changing detail that is never repeated. The way the song naturally evolves and morphs from start to finish is supposed to soundtrack the way a dream changes so completely and effortlessly without you even questioning it.
We were drawn to the first inception of ‘Vertigo’ because of its brooding quality. It had a vulnerability to it, that in the final version juxtaposes nicely against a rather slick production. All the separate parts of this song work to create one singular rhythm, that subtlety builds as the song progresses.
The underlying mood throughout ‘Falling Down’ is one of deep longing, an almost hopeful bittersweet sadness. It's about constantly pouring your heart and soul into something and feeling like you're getting nowhere, yet you push on anyway. It's a song that dances delicately between being both expansive and intimate and tonally exists in a kind of twilight colour palette (not too light, not too dark).
A song that explores openness and resistance. It's about the yearning to keep your heart and mind open so that you can flow through life with more ease. It's inspired by the analogy of a river with a shore on each side. On one shore it is completely ordered and regimented and on the other it is chaotic and wild. These shores represent the two extremes of the human mind and the river represents the state balance between the two. Because of this, all of the sonic choices are intended to create the feeling of being under water in a kind of aquatic environment.
The Now is about the space between conscious understanding of living purely in the moment versus actually being fully present. It's a song that acknowledges you might veer off course and stray further away from who you truly are, but at some point, you eventually come back to yourself. To me, the track's production feels like a flower that is slowly blooming, constantly evolving and growing as the song builds.
This song was a last minute addition to the album. Before its inclusion, we felt that the album was missing one last high energy groove-based piece. However, our impression of the song changed once we heard it in context within the album narrative. To me, it now serves as a kind of ethereal bridging song from the first half of the record to the second half. I hear the vocal as an ethereal siren song that glides along the tune like a serpent, reiterating the themes of the previous songs but with a broader more positive perspective. Almost as if it’s a different part of the self-communicating with itself.
This one might feel familiar on the surface but falls deeper into the space and it taps into an energy much deeper and rawer. Like a dance tune from a lost technological ancient civilisation. It was one of the easiest songs to produce, but one of the hardest to finish. Because the balance of all the elements are so intrinsically linked, it meant that if anyone of them were out of place, the whole song would fall apart.
The Thing About Love
This explores the pain and lightness that comes with sharing a truly deep bond with someone, but in particular, the point just before that connection is about to be severed. We also had a lot of fun exploring a more trip hop kind of sound on this one.
Think About It
Visually, I see this song like a series of large waves washing over, much like a stormy galactic sea. I suppose, much by accident, that visually represents the songs darker themes of depression too. As it is such a wall of sound, it took a little bit of crafting to find a space for everything without losing the expansiveness of the piece. A task that truly took the three of us and our mixer (Alex Gooden) to achieve.
Fall Right Back To You
This song is about not being able to let go of someone or something because of the fear of the unknown. The track's production feels like a constant motion, as if you're voyaging through space.
Maybe It’s Time
This song was a true moment of release for me (Ben) personally. It was one of the last songs to be finished for the record but one that was essential to the overall narrative. There is a real reflective feeling of acceptance and surrender that runs through it. I remember the day after I recorded the vocals for the song feeling like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
We wrote this song midway through the album process with the intention of it being the album closer. However, as writing continued and our view of the album morphed, we forgot about it. We had a very different idea of how the album would end and what song it would be. But as deadlines grew closer, the song we thought should close the album wasn’t living up to its full potential, so we began digging through the folder of demo’s for an alternative option. Sitting there was this track, fully formed and ready to go. Now, I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to close this body of work.
- SAFIA, September 2023