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

Memoir 'Rust' Wrestles with the Myth of the American Dream

Eliese Colette Goldbach's memoir, Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit, is the story of one descending into the depths of The American Dream and emerging with flecks of graphite dust on her cheeks, a master's degree in her hands, and a few new friends.

Books

'Indian Sun: The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar' (excerpt)

Ravi Shankar was bemused by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and other bands using the sitar in rock music. Enjoy this excerpt of Indian Sun, by Oliver Craske (who worked with Shankar on his 1997 autobiography), courtesy of Hachette Books.

Oliver Craske
Music

The Strokes Phone It In (Again) on 'The New Abnormal'

The Strokes' The New Abnormal is an unabashedly uninspired promotional item for their upcoming world tour.

Music

"I'm an Audience Member, Playing This Music for Us": An Interview With Keller Williams

Veteran musician Keller Williams discusses his special relationship with the Keels, their third album together, Speed, and what he learned from following the Grateful Dead.

Books

Shintaro Kago's 'Dementia 21' Showcases Surrealist Manga

As much as I admire Shintaro Kago's oddness as a writer, his artistic pen is even sharper (but not without problems) as evident in Dementia 21.

Music

Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad Proclaim 'Jazz Is Dead!' Long Live Jazz!

Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad bring their live collaborative efforts with jazz veterans to recorded life with Jazz Is Dead 001, a taste of more music to come.

Film

"I'll See You Later": Repetition and Time in Almodóvar's 'All About My Mother'

There are mythical moments in Almodóvar's All About My Mother. We are meant to register repetition in the story as something wonderfully strange, a connection across the chasm of impossibility.

Music

Electropop's CMON Feel the Noise on 'Confusing Mix of Nations'

Pop duo CMON mix and match contemporary and retro influences to craft the dark dance-pop on Confusing Mix of Nations.

Music

'Harmony' Is About As Bill Frisell As a Bill Frisell Recording Can Be

Bill Frisell's debut on Blue Note Records is a gentle recording featuring a few oddball gems, particularly when he digs into the standard repertoire with Petra Haden's voice out front.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 4, James Chance to the Pop Group

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part four with Talking Heads, the Fall, Devo and more.

Music

Raye Zaragoza's "Fight Like a Girl" Shatters the Idea of What Women Can and Can't Do (premiere)

Singer-songwriter and activist Raye Zaragoza's new single, "Fight Like a Girl", is an empowering anthem for intersectional feminism, encouraging resilience amongst all women.

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.