Music

Sarah Mary Chadwick Accepts a New Challenge with 'The Queen Who Stole the Sky'

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Melbourne-based rocker Sarah Mary Chadwick accepts a challenge and records a solo performance on a 147-year-old grand organ. Chadwick's anguish makes for an intense and personal listening experience on The Queen Who Stole the Sky.

The Queen Who Stole The Sky
Sarah Mary Chadwick

Sinderlyn

19 April 2019

Melbourne-based rocker Sarah Mary Chadwick received an unusual invitation. The City of Melbourne commissioned her to do a new piece of music, which isn't strange, but it was to be performed on the city's 147-year-old grand organ. The giant instrument produces a sound equally massive, offering a challenge for a solo performance. Chadwick took to it naturally, with her performance from 2018 captured live for the new album The Queen Who Stole the Sky. The mix of the organ's tone and Chadwick's anguish makes for an intense and personal listening experience.

It's a wonder that Chadwick hadn't recorded with an organ before, as it may be the only instrument capable of keeping up with vocal and lyrical expressiveness. She plays slowly, using sustained chords as the primary vehicle for her songs. The smart approach takes advantage of the organ's natural resonance and develops a distinctive style; playing it like a piano would have hampered the effect. As it is, she creates a strange sense of the religious combined with a cavernous void. Chadwick sounds like she's playing hymns to oblivion, which isn't too far from the truth.

Chadwick engages with an unrelenting bleakness. Opener "Confetti" begins with her singing, "And I am like if you took a pencil / And drew a circle / Rubbed out that circle / I am what's inside." She develops various metaphors for herself, none of which are particularly optimistic. There's a hurt emptiness throughout, and Chadwick has the voice to poke each corner of the song just to make sure. She falls through dreams and looks at death, carefully working the dynamics of the song for a tidal experience that never quite refreshes.

For "On the Make" she sings, "No matter how much joy there is / Trust me, I spin in it to sorrow." Every bit of relief she hints at eventually falls under the weight of everything that's crushing her. Each hit on the organ has to be its own form of resistance. It's hard to tell if the resistance holds, though. Chadwick continues to turn herself inside out for song after song, but the dawn never comes. Even in the dark, Chadwick finds deep personal insight.

On "Next in Line", she connects a lack of paternal love to her current relational issues with a devastating sequence: "I never had a man around to love me when I was younger / And that's fine / But there's no amount of love that could fill me / So I keep searching through the line / Who's next in line?" Chadwick doesn't look away from her pain, but she doesn't rationalize it, and she doesn't quite overcome it, other than to endure.

That positioning makes The Queen a demanding listen. Chadwick shows remarkable skill with dynamics, but she uses too limited a palette. Part of that, of course, stems from the project itself and the reliance on the organ, but part of it comes from her lyrical focus. Such an approach could offer great catharsis (and it will work for many listeners), but it also stays stuck too long, meaning not only that it doesn't completely offer relief, but the hurt packed into any individual song begins to fade when it blends into part of such a large and persistence emotional context.

Or maybe it just requires a dark enough night for playing. As a single piece of art, the concert experience probably offered something exceptional, as each of these tracks on their own has surprise and depth. Chadwick's revelations do linger. When she finishes the album with "Something So Sweet" by singing, "It's me that lights up this town", building the chords, and then dipping into a soft finish, she points to a possible future. After all, she "managed to stick around", and the control and mild optimism of the closing track suggests a vision worth seeing through.

6


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.