Undone at 31

Out 22nd February via Merge Records

Whether one seeks it out or it simply presents itself, change is an inevitability. Should one embrace it? Grapple with it? Fight it? These are the questions Martin Frawley unpacks as he steps into the spotlight for Undone at 31, his first album as a solo artist and the start of a new chapter for the Melbourne songwriter (previously from the band, Twerps).

Named for the year in his life when the bottom fell out following a long-term romantic partnership, Frawley sequenced Undone at 31 chronologically to emphasize his journey. He took time off from drinking after mistakes and missteps in his Australian pubs, as chronicled on “End of the Bar,” an early standout that’s equal parts Velvet Underground cool and outlaw country. While visiting Brooklyn during that period, Frawley found a collaborator in Stewart Bronaugh (Angel Olsen, Lionlimb) who, as he says, “gave me confidence and strength when I needed it the most,” and after bonding over albums by John Cale, Anna Domino, and Frank Ocean, “knew where I needed to take the music.”

Frawley documents his attempts to turn over a new leaf throughout the lyrics of Undone at 31, as well as his desire to “see the world in the dark” as sung so clearly on “Just Like the Rest.” To reinforce this new path forward and move away from the familiar, he employed fresh, imaginative approaches in the recording studio as well. “We spent three weeks in John Lee’s Phaedra Studios in Melbourne’s Coburg neighborhood,” Frawley explains. “First week tracking, second week experimenting, third week mixing.” That experimentation included a subtractive process of layering three drum takes as the foundation for the Jacques Dutronc-vibing “Chain Reaction” before pulling out pieces like a Jenga tower to arrive at the final result, as well as Bronaugh’s Robert Quine-channeling pinch harmonics throughout “You Can’t Win.”

Those familiar with Frawley’s time as co-leader of Twerps will take comfort in hearing his deceptively simple songwriting is still intact, but the big reveal here is how new instrumentation and influences seamlessly expand Frawley’s playground. It might take several listens for one to realize Frawley is singing “Something About Me” over just violin, Moog, and a Graceland-esque bassline, or to appreciate the PB+J pairing of Fender Rhodes and lap steel on “Where the Heart Is,” which serves as Undone at 31’s twist ending. Frawley’s album does not shy away from morbid musings and raw emotions that come with a breakup, and like Shoot Out the Lights or Sea Change, Undone at 31’s tunefulness and exploration combined are what elevate the music above the melancholy subject matter.