Sarah Goldstone
Photo: Ruination Record Co.

Boygenius, Joan Didion and Other Influences in Sarah Goldstone’s ‘Waving’

Sarah Goldstone conveys in Waving many impressions through sophisticated music structures with the knack of an experienced musician with much solo work.

Sarah Goldstone
1 December 2023

One January day in 2020, Sarah Goldstone calculated that of the 87 shows in 2019 where she played her role as a touring musician, “Seventy-nine percent of those were female-led bands,” she posted on Instagram. By then, she had been touring a lot with Hurray for the Riff Raff, and when the pandemic subsided in 2021, she became part of Lucy Dacus’ band. Around 2023, Sarah joined a wild bunch of touring musicians in Boygenius, which also included Jay Som. “Lucy said she wanted to have me there,” she recalls in her interview with WTBU. This is how her “family road trip” with Boygenius and a lot of book reading began.

“We’re all trading books,” says Goldstone (WTBU). We know that Lucy Dacus is a big reader, consuming everything from Leo Tolstoy to Albert Camus (and she’s probably read Benny Morris, Steven J. Zipperstein, and Yuval Noah Harari). Thanks to her and Sarah’s presence on tour with Boygenius, their crew was addictively reading everything from Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays to Shirley Jackson and Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko.

That touring life with a “tour family” felt like home, much like the one depicted on the custom patch on the back of Goldstone’s touring uniform jacket. However, having shared her talents across lots of music acts with so many musicians over about a decade “to cover bases, pay bills”, she posted on Bandcamp, and she finally does “the thing one’s dreamt of doing” (Bandcamp). Born into a family of a teacher of literature and a PhD in algebraic topology, also known as a rock climber, she has a BA in philosophy and had been deeply obsessed with New York Times crosswords and also reading books and playing the piano.

The latter two frame her solo work, adding complex songwriting and evocative piano waltzes to it. She started crafting her early demos in between international tours, and with the help of Casio SA-38, left to her by Alison Sudol, things began to take shape. Of course, all those years of work, friendship, and encounters with leading figures of the modern folk scene can also be found in her music.

Here and there, we can easily catch some influences from Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Boygenius on her 8-track-long debut (“I Know My Way Around”). Moreover, she had a very beautiful one-day experience of her own Boygenius-ish band moment alongside Julia Easterlin, aka Hite, and Barrie Lindsay, known as Barrie, as the opening act for Belle and Sebastian in 2019.

However, in marked sonic contrast to, for example, very Bridgers-soaked Charlie Hickey’s debut and the second record of Claud from her label Saddest Factory Records, Goldstone’s offering sounds distinctive. She doesn’t limit herself to established methods of the newest folk, and besides her friends’ aura, there are a lot of influences of classical music, the 1960s and 1970s, and even dream pop from Beach House’s playbook, which she used as guidance “in her production style” (WTBU).

The title track, “Waving”, looks at us with a familiar minimalistic piano ballad (thanks to some Russian teachers for Sarah Goldstone’s classical piano education) and theatrical vocals in the vein of Joanna Newsom and Regina Spektor. In “Honda Battery”, along with Fleet Foxes-like croon and lashings of 1970s tunes, Goldstone’s favorite folk-disco-ish diva, Margo Guryan, can be easily heard. Her approach of mixing different unusual instruments and genres she widely uses in a more electronic way in the opening “Athens 1975”.

Waving concludes with the mesmerizingly dark yet fairy-like “Find Your Home”, falling somewhere between Jack White’s bassline, passed through Fever Ray’s tunes of the 2009 period, and Vampire Weekend-tinged soaring guitar riffs. At the base of this record’s structure lie Impressionistic piano accouterments (“Three Hours”), flowing into electronic symphonies with gentle guitars. Much like Claude Debussy and Erik Satie, who wove their airy and moody atmosphere, evoking millions of romantic feelings by breaking traditional music approaches, Sarah does the same.

Caroline Polachek comes to mind at the end of this text odyssey. I remember how – after almost 15 years of collaborating with Beyoncé, Charli XCX, Blood Orange, Empress Of, Grimes, and other musicians, and working on Chairlift, Ramona Lisa, and CEP projects – Polachek (re)appeared before the public in 2019 seemingly from nowhere with her baroque and mind-blowing visionary, higher vampire-worthy, ideas on her “Pang”. So does Sarah Goldstone — she conveys in Waving many impressions through sophisticated music structures with the knack of an experienced, elder musician with a decade-long background of solo work.

Call it the “carrot philosophy”: for almost 15 years of her music career, Sarah Goldstone embraced her life and “stopped trying to accomplish anything”— she just put the proverbial carrot in front of her and “decided the carrot wasn’t that important but chasing it was”, as written in Tamara Shopsin’s no-fuss memoir Arbitrary Stupid Goal, which she had been reading during the recording. This “carrot”, much like the white rabbit to Neo or Alice in Alice in Wonderland, brought her here, on the threshold of a new fantastical journey.

RATING 8 / 10