Album Review: Sad13 – ‘Haunted Painting’

Posted: by The Editor

When Sadie Dupuis released her debut solo album Slugger in the fall of 2016, her Sad13 moniker was a repository for ideas that didn’t fall within the scope of Speedy Ortiz. These ideas, whether they edged too closely to pop music, or had lines Dupuis felt bad making her bandmates play on, still became excellent pop songs. Four years later, though, Sad13 feels like the clearest viewpoint into who Dupuis is as an artist. Her new album Haunted Painting feels quintessential, as its maximal sound and eerie imagery are themes reflected in her work since Major Arcana.

Painting is an embrace of all things chilling but commonplace and opens with the rattle of chains and leering strings. “Into The Catacombs” delivers the energy one hopes an album called Haunted Painting would have. It’s menacing, and its strings rise and fall, building to a fake-out where one expects a jump scare. “Ruby Wand” finds Dupuis coming to terms with an OCD diagnosis, and plays on the double meaning of the term “ritual.”  Rather than traveling further into grimy sound, it opens up into “WTD?”, a shimmering indie rock song with a melody that, try as you might, you will end up humming throughout the day. Painting is the only album this year that does a perfect job balancing its influence – in this case, straddling the line between mindless fun and unsettling horror. A standout track, “Hysterical” features both a pounding chorus and lyrics like “You’re in it for the fight, right? / A voyeur for the gore.” 

While the record is a solo album, it’s important to note that Dupuis is not the only accomplished musician playing here. Despite its gorgeous swirling arpeggios, “Ruby Wand” wouldn’t be the same without the contribution of drummer Zoe Brecher, whose drum fill ensures the song’s climactic end feels powerful. The album also features many guests, ranging from Pile’s Rick Maguire to Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki. 

While many songs on Painting swing wildly, full of gusto,” Take Care” is something different. I have long admired Dupuis for her unique lyrical style; and in addition to making music, she is an accomplished poet. She fills her work with words you’d never find used by her contemporaries. That’s why I am stunned by the simplicity of the message displayed here. The chorus is simply “I care.” It’s more affecting because rather than hone in on the sentiment with ten-dollar words, it cuts right to the point. It echoes this unspoken pathos in the simple instrumentation, nothing more than flutes that Dupuis’s voice dances amongst. 

The album’s closer, “Market Hotel,” while the most straightforward rock song present, is just as intimate and chilling as its more experimental counterparts. Dupuis is recounting a story that, albeit clear from the context of its title and a mention of the JMZ, is pulled out of the past. She conjures up images of the early days in her music career, coordinating with her dad on when he should arrive to see her play. They’re “either playing last or first out of five.” Fans know that Dupuis had a very close relationship with her father – and this can add a level to the song – but even without that knowledge, the feeling of having your parents support your passion is still moving. “Market Hotel” feels like a look back to days of not being taken seriously, being assumed to be just a girlfriend. It’s not framed as some kind of triumphant look back on life, more like a memory pressed into a wax seal. Though Dupuis deserves that proud ponderance. How many of those dismissive men at Brooklyn DIY venues are on their second solo album?

Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great / Phenomenal

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Eric Bennett | @seething_coast

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