E^ST’s Debut Album ‘I’m Doing It’ Is About Realising You Don’t Know Who The Fuck You Are
And it's also one of the best Australian albums in recent years.
I’m Doing It, the studio debut from indie powerhouse E^ST, is a late-night album. But not the romantic vision of the twilight hours, full of promise and nocturnal grace. I’m Doing It is about waking up in a sweat at two in the morning, haunted by some ancient embarrassment, and seized by worries that you’ve done it all wrong.
Which is not to say that this is an existential record, or even a tortured one. E^ST — real name Melisa Bester — has always avoided any of the dry or academic connotations that usually come pre-packaged with attempts to unpack disgrace; shame; purpose. Bester is first and foremost a pop songwriter, and I’m Doing It is speckled with frothy, textural chart hits.
There’s ‘No One With You’, a slow build that eventually collapses into one of the most anthemic choruses of the year; ‘I Wanna Be Here’, a bold reclamation of self; and ‘Maybe It’s Me’, the precise midpoint between FKA Twigs and music from an arcade game loading screen. These are songs that you feel first and think about later, diamonte-covered sledgehammers that get to work on your guts, and that you only properly process on third or fourth listen.
So, when the melancholy hits — and believe me, it really does hit — it is slowly; without your fully noticing. ‘Fit For Company’, the record’s opener, is an orchestral warm-up with ennui and shame nestled inside it like a viper woven through long grass. “What does it matter?” Bester wonders. “I’m fucked anyway.” Later, on ‘Fresh Out Of Love’, Bester mourns being the kind of person who gives more love than she receives. “I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m the one who’s getting burned,” she sings, her voice as thick as cough syrup.
Because a lot of this melancholy has to do with romance, some critics have called I’m Doing It a break-up record. But that feels oddly reductive. I’m Doing It is about more than crushes and romantic disappointments. It is a song of the self, an album about processing how we are changed not just by our sexual partners, but by everyone — by the world. And it’s an album laced with the worry that there is something about being alive that means devaluing yourself, and straying ever further away from your own values.
In a word, it is an album about honesty, and how hard staying honest can be.
E^ST Only Tells The Truth
Bester knows a lot about that honesty. Since first emerging on the Australian indie scene back in 2014, the musician has always been guided by a painful quest to release music that speaks only what is on her mind.
That means that her songs have been released in dribs and drabs; that her “brand”, as it were, has stayed dizzyingly multitudinous. She doesn’t shoehorn herself into trends, or into the usual EP, EP, album roll-out that the music industry demands. I’m Doing It wasn’t even designed as a debut — she told Jackson Langford of NME that it was a shorter work that grew beyond the scope of its own boundaries without Bester even really realising.
Bester has only ever sounded like herself.
The result of that difficult honesty is that Bester has only ever sounded like herself. With its 13 short tracks, I’m Doing It is both more compact and more expansive than debut Australian records usually are. All too often, musicians are forced to release statements of self before they have even worked out what they want. But Bester has the experience and skill to speak her mind directly — even if what is on her mind is confusion; lack of purpose; aimlessness.
Hence, there is no filler anywhere to be found on I’m Doing It. Time and time again, across the album’s 30-odd minutes of polished songwriting, she reduces entire ways of being and trains of thought to short, precise couplets. “I’ll just keep on trying everything out,” she sings on ‘I Wanna Be Here’, a three-minute ode to self-preservation that contains more intelligence and insight than most artists manage over the course of their entire career. “Until I don’t wanna die.”
It’s All Hard
It would be wrong to imply that any of this comes across as effortless. In fact, the great joy of I’m Doing It is that it is clearly something that Bester has had to work hard at. The record never feels like one of those dashed-off works of genius. Rather, it is clearly a summation of years of work and struggle, and behind the glassy textures of a song like ‘Talk Deep’ are deep rivers of blood, tears, sweat.
How much like life. You work for so long to try to uncover how you really feel, and only ever really discover that you don’t know; that it’s complicated; that the great task of being a person is something you will never get much better at.
The only thing to do is try, and do your best to not hurt anyone while you’re trying. It’s like Bester says right there on the record’s opener: “I don’t know who the hell I am now.” Then she takes a breath, the strings keen, and she realises: “What does it matter?”
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @JosephOEarp.