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23-year-old Australian Marcus Gordon isn't interested in the routine or regular. As the singer and songwriter of Spookyland, he wrangles profanity, twisted beauty and a fascination with life's paradoxes into the service of highly personal. Spookyland make music where the widescreen romance of alt.country/folk rock meets something more intriguingly theatrical, urban and morally complex. Their debut album, Beauty Already Beautiful is 11 dynamic and often epic songs in which the singer takes a scalpel to experience, exposing his own frailties and hurt while also laying bare our collective fatally flawed nature.

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Gordon started writing songs when he was just 11, inspired by his two musically experienced older brothers, one of whom – Liam –is Spookyland's guitarist. "I went straight to writing, even before I could sing or play," he explains. "Music was always around and I loved the feeling of creating something – even if that was just a noise – and I didn't question it. I always wanted to do it."

On Beauty Already Beautiful, Gordon's explosiveness gets a mightily impressive workout. Here are big songs with a do-or-die feel that recall Springsteen, off-centre ballads with echoes of Dylan and occasional moments of folksy rollicking that suggest The Pogues. But here too is Lou Reed's swagger, Bowie's verve and the incantatory honesty of Patti Smith. The binding element is Gordon's voice, a compellingly raw squall that aligns him with other idiosyncratic singers like Joanna Newsom, Dylan, Anohni and Jimmy Scott. "My voice has never been formally trained," he says. "I started with literally making noises in the bedroom, with a guitar, and focused on the feeling of that – even if it was horrid, like you wouldn't want to sleep next to it. It wasn't singing; it was akin to chanting and crying at the same time. But I knew if I could train myself to sing songs in that voice, it might resonate with some people. I knew that was fulfilling something for me, so to keep doing it was also just in case anyone else needed that. It's taken me years to even be able to hold a note and my voice is constantly shifting, with the emotions of new songs."

Beauty Already Beautiful was recorded in Omaha, Nebraska and produced by Tony Buchen at the Saddle Creek compound, where Spookyland lived while they worked. It features a guest spot from Bright Eyes mainstay Mike Mogis, who plays pedal steel on "Prophet". "He was very mysterious about it, too, locked in his studio at odd hours for five-minute increments; I don't think we even heard what he'd done until we got back to Australia. It's such a beautiful touch."

Lyrically, the album ranges far and wide: it addresses the cost of doing exactly what you want with your life ("Nowhereland"); gender differences in so-called acceptable behaviour ("Big Head"); what Gordon calls the "tension and separation that goes on in Australia", plus an attempt to tear down its archetypes ("Prophet"); and to-hell-with-the-world self-destruction ("Bulimic"). According to the singer, "Most of these songs are trying to celebrate something that probably shouldn't be celebrated. They're creating a parade out of one bad moment. It's like when the coach comes into the locker room and gives the team a pep talk – but here, it's a talk that says, 'go get really unhealthy' and 'hate yourself forever'. That's the feeling."

Discipline is something Spookyland value, not in terms of an ascetic routine, but in terms of their commitment to developing a particular collaborative vision. If their songs are big and their artistic reach ambitious, then their talent is a match. For Gordon, there's a huge difference between ambition and careerism. "I'm ambitious in that I want to make a lot of work," he declares, "but in terms of success, it's hard to say. I'm a very shy person, so to try and rise up as some kind of star isn't so appealing. That was never an intention.

"Spookyland is about trying to make life seem more interesting. The world becomes weird when you think about it in a different way, so for me it's trying to push beyond life, without dying, to slightly dip into the psychotic or spiritual world. I don't know if that's romanticism, exactly, but it's the point where you're half in and half out of the world, at the same time."

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