Sia: Colour the Small One

[29 January 2006]

By Mike Schiller

...Claire steps into the car and puts the very much misnamed “Ted’s Deeply Un-Hip Mix” into the CD player.  Slowly, carefully, a lovely mix of gently cascading pianos and breathy vocals (followed eventually by a slow rock beat) seeps out of the speakers as the requisite final-episode montage graces the eyes of HBO viewers.  And thus, Six Feet Under ends, leaving the lasting question on the minds of paralyzed, misty-eyed watchers everywhere:

“What was that deeply un-hip song?”

That song was and is “Breathe Me”, by the artist known only as Sia.  The song’s placement at the end of Six Feet Under has ultimately, finally resulted in Sia’s second album Colour the Small One getting a much-deserved release in the United States nearly two full years after its release in the UK.  And yes, I said “much-deserved,” and I don’t say that lightly—this second release from the Australian artist is packed full of at least as much alliteration-inspiring exquisite emotion and melancholy melody as “Breathe Me” would imply.

Sia’s first album Healing is Difficult is an album that falls closer to slightly skewed R&B than any other genre, but Colour the Small One is likely to appeal more to those fans of her work with the UK purveyors of downtempo in Zero 7.  Colour the Small One is an incredibly “internal” album, one where we feel as though we’re hearing the stream of Sia’s consciousness, listening to her thoughts as much as we are hearing her words.  “And I’m addicted to the joy that the little things / Those little things / The little things they bring,” she sings in the cinematic, string-enhanced “Don’t Bring Me Down”, coming off something like Natalie Imbruglia as heard from inside the womb, all poppy chord changes and slow builds in a soupy, near-whispered haze.  “You’ve drawn me into your world / Now I too spin, limbless,” she sings in “Moon”, whispering a striking, almost violent concession of loving submission to an unnamed lover.  That sense of loss of control, more contemplated than acted upon, is the essence of what Colour the Small One exemplifies most consistently.

Of course, such a loss of control is understandable given the inspiration for much of Sia’s music.  She has mentioned that her first album was a direct reaction to the tragic death of her lover, but much of that album feels detached, as if Sia was purposefully avoiding the sorrow that comes with such catastrophe.  Colour the Small One is the confrontation, as Sia continually talks herself through her darker thoughts:  “Give yourself a break / Let your imagination run away” is her advice in the faux-chipper “Sunday”, yet by the next song (the aforementioned “Breathe Me”), she’s back to sentiment more in line with mourning, singing “I think that I might break / I’ve lost myself again and I feel unsafe”.  Hers is a psyche on the edge, simultaneously disturbing and beautiful.  It all makes the payoff at the end that much more satisfying, as “The Church of What’s Happening Now” brings Sia’s focus to the present, while the upbeat, out-of-character “Where I Belong” keeps one eye on a brighter future while giving some closure to the past, ultimately closing on the line “There’s a place here for you with me”.

So it goes.  Colour the Small One has all of the attributes of a Hollywood movie in which the protagonist and the foil both happen to be the same person.  There’s conflict, there’s high drama, there’s tragedy, and there’s a happy ending.  There’s even a subplot added for character development in which our heroine deals with a less-than-flattering portrait of the person she once was (“Bully”, co-written with Beck in sad sack Sea Change mode).  And, as an added bonus, America gets the expanded DVD edition of said movie, complete with deleted scenes (lovely UK B-Sides “Broken Biscuit” and “Sea Shells”) and alternate takes (two remixes of “Breathe Me”), all of it filling up over 70 minutes of the CD on which it is housed.

That’s 70 minutes to savor, to let the words run through you, to let the melodies wrap around you.  70 minutes to treasure, for that’s what Colour the Small One is, a treasure chest unlocked, a tin foil ball of emotion unwrapped for all to see, finally noticed two long years after its announced presence.  So notice it.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/sia_colour_the_small_one/