Alt Pop

Sad13 "Haunted Painting" and poetry on the beach

Listening to Sad13’s second full-length album called Haunted Painting takes me back to my six-or-seven-year-old self and a trip to visit my aunt and juvenile delinquent high school cousin in the Spray Tan State and in particular our trip to the Disneyworld Industrial Complex widely known as the home of animatronic dead presidents and Johnny Depp singing “Yo Ho” to all the ladies. 

Of course it’s also home to the Haunted Mansion and all those paintings in the entrance hallway where when you look at them at first it’s like some baroness or something stretched out on her fainting couch but then before your very eyes she transforms into a spooky apparition like Medusa with snakes sprouting out her head or who knows what but some or other creepy character for sure and then you blink and it’s back to the baroness. Then before you know it you’re riding along in your bumper car and you look up into the mirror on the opposing wall and there’s a goddamn hitch-hiking ghost sitting on your head. That sh*t blew my six-or-seven-year-old mind.

 

Haunting Painting reminds me of all this. Band frontlady Sadie Dupuis--good name for a baroness, she also belongs to a band called Speedy Ortiz--pulls out all the stops and the starts on this album. What I mean by that is that many of the songs start off as one thing and then go around a corner and suddenly transform into another sonic apparition entirely. Like the single “Ghost (Of A Good Time)” that starts as a synth-based new-wavey “slappin’ bop” (sorry for the technical terminology there) but then a couple minutes later the groove suddenly drops away and a brief berserker guitar part swells up and ushers us into what sounds like a waltz for a haunted ballroom and soon there’s some beautiful harmonies and counter-melodies building layer upon layer before if finally goes back to the first section like nothing ever happened. You see what I mean about the portraits.

 Pull-quote: Sad13’s Haunted Painting is a pandemic Pet Sounds for shut-ins. The future’s looking febrile, indeed!

All in all even with all the charming pop elements this is a real headtrip album--headphones strongly recommended--there’s so many little ornate curly-cue details on the record that it rewards repeat listens. Ms. Dupuis & Co. reportedly recorded this album across roughly a half-a-dozen-or-so studios and they picked up whatever odd junk store odds ‘n’ ends they could wherever they went and that’s why you hear things like glockenspiels and pennywhistles (disclaimer: you may hear neither of these) which together with all the asymmetric twisty melodies and time-signature changes creates a cool funhouse mirror vibe. Relevant note: Sadie made it a point to work exclusively with female sound engineers on all the tracks which is a role that’s still a male-dominated enclave of the recording industry today so yea!

Be forewarned going in that, much like your average nominal “fun” house, there’s some scary stuff lurking in the dark even if all the shiny surfaces and candy-coated textures may distract you from the stuff. Except for when the dark stuff occasionally bubbles up to the surface like near the end of “Ruby Wand” which is mostly a straight-up Baroque electropop number until towards when it goes all haywire for a minute. Oh, and don’t listen to or read the lyrics if you don’t like the dark stuff. 

It’s all somehow insular and mind-expanding all at once. The whole aesthetic applies equally to the videos released alongside the album which are equal parts silly and creepy and strange and ornate. To give a couple examples on “Ghost” Sadie Dupuis goes all Cindy Sherman with the multiple personas who look right into your soul both seductively and ominously, and the video for “Hysterical” that riffs on the whole entire-movie-taking-place-on-a-computer-screen premise of 2014 social media horror flick “Unfriended” but updated here for the Zoom age. Also, Sadie essentially admits over the course of the video that she’s been stalking Wallace Shawn for ages so we’ve got some incriminating evidence for when Wallace goes missing.

Finally, I should mention that our fearless bandleader is based in Philadelphia and not New York City. But that’s ok I’m just going to go ahead and claim her as ours because Sadie’s life-altering turning point was self-reportedly when she transferred colleges from M.I.T. to Barnard, and changed her major from mathematics to poetry in the process, which led directly to her songwriting career. Yea Barnard University!

And finally finally the other reason to write about Sad13 at this very moment is that they’ll be appearing tonight as part of the No Bummer All Summer “Virtual” Beach Party with Sadie doing a “beach read” of her poetry--Could that be a Zoom background or the real thing? You be the judge!--as part of the evening’s lineup of performances, activities, and specials organized by Montreal shoegazers No Joy which all starts at 8PM EST. Check out details and get your tickets here. (Jason Lee)

 

   

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