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Sarah Mary Chadwick - Please Daddy Music Album Reviews

Ever attuned to the nuances of grief, the Melbourne singer-songwriter tackles somber subjects with her typical gravity, but there’s a newfound lightness in her step.

Sarah Mary Chadwick has spent a lot of time mulling heavy questions. In interviews over the past few years, the Melbourne singer-songwriter has discussed the immense pain of grief, the weight of religious symbology, the inner workings of Lacanian psychoanalysis, and the ways that watching Friends makes her think of her own mortality. She approaches such subjects with good humor, but the thoughtful way she dwells on them shows the kind of thinker and songwriter she is, with a sparse, quiet way of tackling grand philosophical concerns. Alone, often accompanied by just a piano, she stares at the sky and demands answers from a higher power that may or may not be listening.


The Queen Who Stole the Sky, Chadwick’s 2019 album, embodied this style of songwriting more fully than any of her previous efforts. She was commissioned by the city to write for a 147-year-old pipe organ in the Melbourne Town Hall, and the resulting pieces were extraordinarily stark and piercing, even by her standards. Grappling with the respective deaths, in quick succession, of her father and a former partner, the songs are all weary sighs, the sound of a person flailing for a handhold in a slippery world. Because the music is composed of just her voice and the organ, every word she sings takes on a near-religious gravity. In interviews around that record, she worried that she might have trouble following it up. “After the organ record, I was flummoxed what I’d write about because I didn’t have access to grief for the first time in three years,” she told Bandcamp.

But Chadwick’s Please Daddy picks up pretty much exactly where its predecessor left off. The very first track is called “When Will Death Come,” and in its first verse, Chadwick admits that she’s back in the same rut she often dwells in: “I thought I was [past] this, but I’m losing it.” On the title track, she sings of the dissociative creep of anhedonia, describing how she feels “amputated from my personality.” Elsewhere, she wonders what life would be like if the sun ceased to shine, and if her tears never dried. It’s a record of immense emotional pain, full of the sort of stinging, bitter songs she’s been writing her whole career.

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But part of what makes Please Daddy so moving is that you wouldn’t necessarily guess how heavy it is if you weren’t paying close attention to what she’s saying. The arrangements have the kind of swing that her music hasn’t made much room for before. Her songs are still pretty minimal and morose, but relative to the grayscale organ dirges of her last record, there are some positively vibrant moments. “If I Squint,” like a lot of her songs, is built around the sobbing rhythm of her languorous piano chords, but glimmering flute melodies and gilded horn flourishes color in the margins. Chadwick has even said that “When Will Death Come” was her attempt at capturing the louche self-indulgence of late-period Elvis Presley, which is telling of her approach. She doesn’t necessarily want these songs to feel like downers, even though they are.

That split between sound and spirit lends another layer to the forlorn songs she’s been singing her whole career. In the genteel melodies and floating arrangements, she suggests that it’s still possible to find meaning when you’re weighed down by these feelings. Grief, existential turmoil, and religious doubt may never leave you, but life always trudges on.


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