Indigo Sparke has a way of gathering the stars and keeping them in her pocket, handing them out on her guitar strings as she sees fit. The Australian singer-songwriter’s debut album, Echo, surrounds you, yet never leaves you feeling claustrophobic. It is as wide open as the deserts she drew inspiration from in the making of this album.
This openness is reflected in the way the album seeks the right questions, rather than the correct answers. The songs often embark on mini philosophical quests, each anchored by Sparke’s languid, melancholy tones and simple guitar backings. Her sound evokes the centering gravity of Bedouine, or perhaps Angel Olsen at her most simple and haunting. Although the album is mostly Sparke and her guitar, with the barest touches of piano, percussion and bass here and there, these all come together to make a sum that is greater than its parts.
In “Colourblind,” the guitar and tambourine slowly gather their things and enter the album. There is a patience to her voice, the pace at which she moves through the piece. How do those we surround ourselves with affect the way we see the world? This becomes the first of the many self-reflective inquiries the album inspires.
Sparke continues to question and explore in tracks like “Everything, Everything” and “Baby.” The lyrics in “Everything Everything” surrounding death make it a fitting closer to the album. Her whispered tones enhance the song’s mystery and magic. As she affirms that “Everything, everything is dying” and “Everything is simple,” there is no dread involved. It doesn’t even feel like a resolute stamp marked “END.” It asks of the listener what it means to die and what it means to live. There is a peaceful transformation of something often viewed as a spectre of fear and suffering into a straightforward communal experience.
“Baby” is the lead single off of the album, in which Sparke submerges you in a lake of melancholy and pulls you out by the grace of her love. Echo evokes strong visuals; in this one, Sparke is surrounded by glowing balls of light, as she sings of “energy balls all around us” in an exploration of universal energy fields. Through the music, she asks us and herself: What brings someone comfort? What pushes someone? Can it ever be the same thing?
Comfort and unease coexist in a strange balancing act on this record. In tracks like “Golden Age,” it is difficult to say if the warm grain of the guitar pulls you to a more familiar, tangible reality, or if its swooping chords shoot you off into space again. Even while singing of old, long-term loves, there is always a feeling of everything changing, of new things arising; your skin gives way to goosebumps.
Sparke’s struggles with her own eroticism are delicately approached. “The witch of desire” greets her in “Undone,” while in “Carnival” she asks “Will you be mine?”, struggling to connect with something so she doesn’t lose herself.
With “Wolf” comes Sparke’s deepest approach to her sexuality. As her female lover beckons her, “Come upstairs, let me show you all the parts you haven’t seen / There’s a hell, there’s a heaven, there’s a universe exploding,” the impact of these experiences is hard to deny. Her grand lyrics and ghostly vocals make you pause every so often to catch up to what you are feeling. The woman to who Sparke sings an ode is a necessity; only through physical intimacy, she seems to say, can her desperate body express this. When we begin to fall apart, we search for something to tangibly hold on to, to sink our nails into someone’s back to mark it as part of us, to show that we were there. “Wolf” is a continuation of this search for connection.
In “Undone,” the struggle between seeking this experience with another while not losing oneself is highlighted. There is an element of celestial surreality; it feels like trying to hold yourself together while parts of you continue to slip out the door and into the universe. In vivid, poetic imagery, Sparke struggles with how to keep herself whole when maybe she never fully belonged to herself to begin with. In lines like “Heaven stretches lonely on her thighs, her lips, her palms,” everything happens on a cosmic level that she makes intimate.
The album is pared back, and yet it fills you with a sense of vastness. Everything personal is made universal, or perhaps Sparke accepts that everything personal already belongs to the universe. Sparke creates a balancing act that seems like it might topple at any time, but is threaded with something too strong to give in.
Daily Arts Writer Rosa Sofia Kaminski can be reached at email@example.com.