Punko treats songs like invocations. The Newcastle-via-Melbourne musician, real name Liv Jansz, makes percussive, lo-fi synth music, filled with lamentations for the past and prayers for the future. Across her debut album, Plants Singingshe wishes away not just a toxic relationship, but the memory of it, too: “It’s hard to remember knowing you at all,” she sings on “Undivided,” repeating the first four words as if to pull them into reality. This type of steely, considered repetition appears on nearly every song on Plants Singingand for good reason: “Songwriting can be very predictive,” Punko said last year. “Often the things you write about come true, so I have found that by writing about future […] versions of myself who are in a better place, I am opening up a door for that person to come to life.”
Plants Singing captures the possibility of Punko’s future as much as it reflects her past. Jansz was a stalwart of the Melbourne scene before relocating to Newcastle, playing in Sui Zhen as well as the lean, rangy rock outfit Real Love and her own band, Hearing. Vestiges of her pedigree course through the album: Its new age-y synth palette makes it feel like a scuffed, unruly cousin of Sui Zhen’s Secretly Susanwhile Hearing’s “Plus Minus,” originally released on a 2017 compilation, is revived as the hypnotic closing track, “+-.” The difference between the two recordings is staggering: Where the former is discordant and anxious, jolting around like a dinghy in choppy waters, listening to Punko’s version is like watching someone deliver a prophecy. The shift in focus reveals Punko as a musical project less interested in immediacy than endurance. Where “Plus Minus” was starkly thrilling—Jansz’s plea of “I cannot farewell you , friend” like a winding blow — “+-” takes longer to unravel, its intentions altogether more mysterious.
The songs on Plants Singing tend to loop and build slowly and methodically. They work best if you sink into them, leaving the record on repeat and letting the words slowly ingratiate themselves into your psyche. Listening to this album can feel a little like sitting on a beach, watching as new fragments of ocean detritus wash up with each wave. The hollow cacophony of “Plants Singing” is initially the song’s most striking element until Jansz’s lyrics—“I’m distracted by the future/I’m not looking at you” —float to the surface. Punko and Pillow Pro vocalist Christobel Elliot’s unified chants of “I can feel the warmth” on “Time for Us” seem to take up the entirety of the song’s frame, until you notice the rush of hi-hat coursing underneath.
Plants Singing can feel slow-moving, but it reveals its secrets in time. Jansz is a deft lyricist, and she knows to use her most direct and impactful lines judiciously. “Painted by the Moon” is all atmosphere and scene-setting until one lyric, “I’m not in the mood to fear for my life,” rings loud and clear. “Collect” begins with inscrutability (“It’s like peeling fruit/I can see what’s true and untrue”) before slipping into bracingly clear terms: “ Holding me close/Will hurt us both.” “Cash Under Your Bed,” the best song here, takes one standout lyric, picks it apart, and builds an entire song from it. Over a sharp synth line, Punko sings about fleeing her relationship, each line fragmented but impossibly vivid: “You were drunk when I left/I took the cash under your bed/You dipped and I ran.” It feels like the rest of Plants Singing is a reverberation of the event she describes in these words—echoes of what precipitated it and flashes of what could come after.