You’re perched on a softly rotting pine bench in the oldest park in your hometown. A thin trickle of golden light slips through gently waving tree branches and dances past your eyes. It distracts you, and, glancing up, you notice people. They are sitting just like you, or strolling with a friend. Some have destinations, some are taking a moment to rest. You stare them down in abstract; reflecting on the banal fact that they all have their own lives and their own stories that you will never know, and that in essence, they exist as richly and as fully as yourself. There’s even a word assigned to this feeling: sonder; a word that’s coveted by the over-intellectual. Festering in pious self-reflection, you conclude that your realization that everyone has a life supports your hunch that you are in fact aware; holding a supposedly rare perspective that gifts you with the ultimate empathetic outlook. But this is confused. What actually occurs is the view obscuring the self; detaching from the present and making the potentialities of others ambiguous. It’s purposeless, as our thoughts cling to established clichés that don’t actually inform us of the world around us, yet make us believe otherwise. These follies are easy to fall into, and are unfortunately what Sadie Dupuis, also known as Sad13, presents in her album Haunted Painting.
Throughout 11 songs, Dupuis’ lyrics are esoteric to the point of incomprehension. There is little that a listener can draw from her words, as there is no content or connection to each phrase. Exceptions are the songs “With Baby” and “Market Hotel.” These songs employ a sort of stream-of-consciousness narrative that ends in a place that is as vague and undefined as where it began. Extending to her delivery, there’s no satisfaction in her rhythm or meter. Dupuis’ melodies are catchy and briefly powerful, but lyrics, the building blocks of songs, are strangely placed, her emphasis stressing the wrong words, the wrong syllables; creating a clunky effect that distracts from any message that could be pulled from them, because focusing on what is being sung becomes tenuous. It seems that Dupuis takes an impressionistic approach, but this can only be appreciated in the context of the other sonic elements a listener comes to an album for.
The instrumentals of the album, while pleasant, are that of fairly standard indie rock, employing harsh guitar tones that work well with the passion present in Dupuis’ voice. The sounds found in Haunted Painting are not exclusive to anything that has been done before in the genre, and serve as a backdrop for lyrics that hold little poignancy compared to the amount of performed emotion poured into them. Returning to “With Baby” and “Market Hotel,” these songs are almost a surprise as each sentence builds off the next, creating a scene with dialogue and surface detail, but any semblance of structure plummets into obscurity and needless verbosity, falling in line with the other songs, giving the effect that Dupuis was trying to reach a word count right before this album was “due.” It’s obvious that she approaches her music as a poet, but when the musical language is so straightforward, so accessible and direct, it is a clash as unsatisfying and unattractive as strewn mail, clothes and dishes, all piled onto a freshly cleaned countertop. Even if this clutter can at times sound nice (Dupuis is an incredibly accomplished musician!), it is still all her mess.
The word “sonder” creates a needless distance between ourselves and others. To have the feeling of “sonder” recontextualizes you as an observer of every single person that is not yourself. You become an outsider to humanity, someone who appreciates its beauty and boundlessness but is not a part of it. You have taken a step back, hiding behind words that do not add to any larger conversation, or impart a larger understanding or deepening of emotion. They are simply presented. Dupuis is haunted by this. Her language does not seek to relate, it does not seek to emote, there is only the narcissistic verbosity that shoves any and all messaging back to herself, a secret language that only Dupuis herself can understand. There is little indication that she cares to give anything other than a performance, and it’s one that shows her faltering with each step.
Daily Arts Contributor Vivian Istomin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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