You could say that Caitlin Park’s stunning debut album of sample-heavy, wraithlike folk came out of nowhere, but there’s much more to this story than a Sydney music discovery. Milk Annual and its beautifully crafted layers of acoustic guitar, soft vocals, field recordings and conversational sound bites is the kind of album that makes you want to know who and what’s behind it, how it was pieced together – and why.
While Milk Annual could be described as a more leftfield album than most, there are certainly pop moments on there too, perhaps the most obvious being the track that was chosen to feature in a Bonds commercial earlier this year, Warriors With Wild Hearts. Latest single Baby Teeth is also unassumingly infectious, brimming with harmonies and echoed lyrics.
On tour to launch the record, Park tells us she discovered her love of plying samples to songs while studying at the Conservatorium of Music. Her final performance piece incorporated dialogue from Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder, and from there she began teaching herself the guitar while fostering a love of sample-savvy acts like The Books and Tunng.
“It all starts off as folk music, I guess,” Park ponders. “But I want to make it more about storytelling and more...I wouldn’t say more interesting because folk music turns me on as much as anything else does, but I think the sound effects for me create much more of an aspect…where you can sit down and listen to a record from start to finish and you don’t have to be doing anything else. It envelopes you so much.”
Much of the dialogue featured on the album was taken from recordings Park made of her friends and family. Some of it was natural conversation, some of it read from a script. One song, Cauliflower Jack, features parts of a conversation she had with “an old drunk” at the Cauliflower Hotel in Sydney’s Waterloo. Through them all, Park sings of intimacy found and lost, of coming of age and the lessons therein.
One of the most intriguing voices on the album is that of a man taken from an old vinyl album Park found at Pigeon Ground Record and Clothing in Camperdown. “It’s basically a two-and-a-half-hour vinyl of a guy trying to sonically exhibit irregular heartbeats,” she says. “He was a doctor at the time when he recorded this in the 1940s.”
The track he most features in, Tic Tac Language, sees Park singing along with his findings and giving his words new meaning – “Notice it’s the same, resonant, tone, note.” The results are breathtaking.
Once Park had done her thing in her home studio, Milk Annual was handed over to be mixed by Belles Will Ring frontman Liam Judson, who also worked on Cloud Control’s debut, Bliss Release.