I’m going to be straight up here and admit, with a decent degree of embarrassment, that this is my first foray into the music of Sarah Mary Chadwick. But the first few tracks of her new album Sugar Still Melts In The Rain washed over me and by the third or fourth, I was in awe.
After finishing an initial play through I needed some context and descended down the rabbit-hole of Youtube. I found dozens of videos documenting her career, everything from small live performances to charmingly lo-fi music videos.
I was fascinated by how revealing the experience was. It felt almost voyeuristic. Like I had stumbled across someone’s old home video collection.
Sarah Mary Chadwick’s music feels so inextricably linked to who she is that it’s more an extension of herself than a craft. Make no mistake though, the craft is there.
It was all there; her life as an artist preserved in the amber of the internet. Periods of awkward artistic growth sitting side by side with unmitigated triumphs. This is something of a rarity these days, with labels often deleting their artists’ past works to create the appearance of something new and “exciting”.
To do so in the case of Chadwick would be an example of gross misconduct, and an absolute tragedy. Her identity as an artist, which she has earned through her past works, informs and deepens her songs.
That said, this album right here is a brilliant place to start for the uninitiated. Her voice is front and centre, brimming with feeling. She is like an old church organ, cracked and broken and worn until her tone is unmistakably her own. A culmination of her lived experiences.
It’s the perfect vessel to carry her lyrics; deft and deeply personal ruminations on love, death and human connection.
Wind Wool, a harrowingly vulnerable meditation on mental health, addiction and death demonstrates how perfectly her words and voice fit together. If your heart isn’t in your throat by the time she intones “I’ll die, you died, we die” then it’s probably never going to happen for you and you might want to check your pulse. It’s one of the most affecting songs I have heard this year and it left me shellshocked.
The musical make-up of the album is based around Chadwick’s sparse piano playing, which provides a great backdrop for her thoughts to unfold upon. The occasional burst of accomplished drumming and bass provide lift and variation when called upon.
It’s an effective configuration that never overcomplicates the compositions or obscures the raw energy of Chadwick’s performance. Geoffrey O’Connor, who recorded and mixed the album, has done a fantastic job capturing this energy; fully understanding that emotion, expression and feel are far more important in this sort of music than fancy production and “perfect takes”.
One of the most striking things about Sugar Still Melts In The Rain is how singular it’s. There just aren’t that many points of reference that make sense. Chadwick is an artist that really needs to be heard to be understood.
It’s in this way that there is perhaps an apt comparison with cult American singer-songwriter Daniel Johnson. Both Chadwick and Johnson have written some transcendent songs that are almost inseparable from their personal legends (of which they are largely responsible for creating).
There is also an unfortunate parallel regarding how long it’s taken for their work to be discovered and appreciated even by a modest audience. However, considering the strength of Sugar Still Melts In The Rain, this could well be corrected very soon. If such a thing happens it will be well deserved.
Sarah Mary Chadwick is launching her album with three live dates across Melbourne and Sydney. Grab all the details below:
Fri 11 May – Polyester Records, Melbourne – Details
Fri 22 June – The Tote, Melbourne
Fri 29 June – The Union, Sydney