When Sarah Mary Chadwick sings, her voice sounds brittle, as though it’s crumbling as it leaves her throat. The only thing that props her up on “Confetti,” a new song from her upcoming LP The Queen Who Stole the Sky, is the rounded, warm, comforting tones of the ancient grand organ she’s playing, a relic located in Melbourne Town Hall. That combo — Chadwick’s breakdown coupled with an instrument of hope —makes you want to keep listening to hear if it all falls apart or if she’ll make it through to the end.
She sings about feeling empty and how “no one tries quite like I try,” but whenever she sings a line like, “I don’t desire/I’m not alive,” she follows it up with a reprieve on the organ. In a way, the song inhales and exhales just like the bellows that power some organs. In different ways, the mix of light and shade recalls the personal nature of PJ Harvey’s music, the naked id of Daniel Johnston and the loneliness of Television Personalities. But it’s wholly unique to Chadwick — a New Zealand–born singer who was a member of the Melbourne-based downer-rock group Batrider before reinventing herself as an avant-folk solo artist — and her temperament. She keeps up this balancing act throughout the whole album, which she performed and recorded live on the organ late last year. (You can see her play the album’s title song in another video).
“Loosen up/Hey, it’s all right,” she sings at one point in “Confetti.” But it’s within mere moments of her declaring, “There’s a reason I’m no fun.” You want to tell her that it will be all right, but the song ends before you get the chance.
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