If Indigo Sparke comes to your town, you should see her. I was pleased to do so last month when she opened for the National in Boston. With two bandmates (and an appearance from the National’s) Aaron Dessner, producer of her new album), she put together a tight and dynamic 45-minute set. Each song had propulsion and catharsis. It won me over. Judging from the chatter around me during the sets, it won over many people.
Seeing Indigo Sparke live is interesting because her new LP, Hysteria, is more of a mood piece than a narratively-sustained set. When she’s not trying to win over a crowd, she drops down several levels and asks you to come to her. Hysteria only works because it makes that concession, even if the live format is more immediately captivating.
At least at the level of arrangement and instrumentation, the distinctions between each song on Hysteria are subtle and, even after a few listens, hard to wrap your head around. It opts for immersion rather than drama. The passive listener will find utility in Hysteria in that it sets a consistent tone for, say, staring at the ceiling. But it will not seize your attention and shout, “look at me!” Instead, it asks you to put in the work.
Hysteria evokes the emotions it describes. Sparke is not performing as someone feeling the feelings; she is their creator. You’ll find no catharsis in it because she places herself at the center of the chaos. Her (exceptional) voice is spectral, almost ghostly, calling to you from the depths. Its sound is circular, as the tracks evoke each other without offering direct callbacks, submerging you.
Sparke’s choruses are often minimal, relying on one or two repeated lines to engulf the listener’s sense of place and momentum so that you forget how you even got there by the time you re-emerge. It’s impressive that the same technique can be used to different ends. In “Pressure in my Chest”, the repetition feels like a proper pop hook, whereas in “Hold On”, it suspends reality. Through this looping, Hysteria is a record that loses you, which might make it a complex album to love. Unless, of course, that’s what you need: in which case, it gets the job done.
That’s true from the jump. Hysteria begins with “Blue”, which has a simple enough verse structure but somehow loses itself partway through. It’s like stepping down into a dark cellar; each individual step isn’t so distant, but then you look up and realize that you’re already very far underground.
Lyrically, Sparke opts for abstraction over detail. She doesn’t plant her flag in narrative specificity or emotional zingers; instead, impressionistic images flirt with vague memories and descriptions. In “Set Your Fire on Me”, the imagery is vivid enough to be intriguing and provoke curiosity and questioning. Other times, the generalizations border on platitudes: “Time gets eaten / But love is still alive.” But this is an album of slippery feelings, so perhaps the slipperiness is the point.
One exception to this lyrical approach is “Burn”, Hysteria’s closer. It’s a self-contained horror story about abuse that punctuates the album with its vividness and sense of desperation. Here there is something concrete to picture, whereas elsewhere on the record, the feelings simply overwhelm.
Sparke clearly had a dedicated goal with this record: capture the confusing and fluctuating feelings inside of her and linger in them without analysis or explanation. Hysteria’s consistent sound arises organically out of that project, and your appreciation for it is contingent on your willingness to engage with that project in the first place. Sparke doesn’t make a case that you need to care; she expects you to just come to her. If you don’t, Hysteria is not a record for you, at least not right now. But maybe someday it will be, and it will be waiting.