By Roberto Johnson
Photo Credit – Angela Ricciardi
Following the release of one of 2022’s finest records, Indigo Sparke discusses surrendering to mayhem rather than succumbing to it
A palpable sense of peace and abandon permeates the atmosphere within Hysteria, the captivating title track from Indigo Sparke’s second full length record. Its chorus, a soaring refrain with a spellbinding quality, grows increasingly serene each time it reappears.
‘Silver diamond threads, they travel / Watch my, watch my soul unravel.’
In describing the detachment that underscores the song’s lyrics, Sparke reflects on the intense personal reckoning that often serves as a prerequisite for those hard-earned moments of awakening and living outside oneself.
‘It’s so uncomfortable a lot of the time. It’s emotional, lonely, and scary – and always humbling. On the other side, there’s actually a deep sense of belonging, like an expansive joy. I used to be a lot more at war with myself than I am now. That friction was what created the hysteria. Choosing not to be at war with myself gave me a chance to witness the beauty in feeling such intense things.’
Released this fall on Sacred Bones, Hysteria, the latest LP from the Australian-born songwriter, gracefully navigates feelings of alienation and uncertainty, transmuting grief and inner turmoil into uplifting ballads of strength and resilience. It is a record that is stunning on the surface, ethereal even, though a closer examination reveals a deeper and more complex beauty within.
Though not overtly a ‘pandemic record,’ the album’s origin story is inadvertently tied to the global and social unraveling that’s taken place over the past few years. Hunkered down in Australia for the better part of 2020, Sparke emerged from lockdown with a new slate of songs, eager to give them life. Prior to this period of stillness, her work had long been fueled by the alchemic bliss of constantly being on the run. ‘I feel very comfortable in movement, like I can get into an untapped creative zone when I’m in that state. I feel a lot in those liminal kinds of through spaces.’
With the dire state of touring and the uphill battles of releasing an album looming large, the songs that would eventually find a home on Hysteria turned into something greater than a cathartic exercise. In a period beset with existential dread and seemingly insurmountable crises, they became not only a vehicle for self-reflection and personal evolution, but a means of salvation.
‘Music was really the only raft I could hold onto at that time. It was like I had no other option to survive but to start writing, start creating. I had to go through that experience of deep, deep grief. The more I resisted it, the more painful and uncomfortable the sensations in my body were. I didn’t totally know what was going on. I just had to let this beast of a thing take me through whatever it was taking me through to get to the other side.’
This sentiment encapsulates the prevailing theme on the record, that of surrendering to mayhem rather than succumbing to it. In that act of defiance lies Sparke’s most potent proposition, which is rendering ‘hysteria’ as something that is potentially beautiful – a state of euphoria rather than one of despair. Her songs submit to this idea, approaching the unresolved tensions of the heart, as well the unavoidable life forces that surround us, with a sense of release, as if to acknowledge that fully grasping their meaning is beyond human capability.
‘Life, love, and change in all its forms, like grief, birth, death, endings and beginnings – they’re always big themes that inspire me, I guess because I’m trying to reconcile that inside of myself all the time.’
On Hysteria, those reconciliations arrive in the form of refined pop songs crafted under the guise of the atmospheric indie folk that graced Sparke’s mesmerizing debut, 2020’s Echo. Guided by the hand of producer Aaron Dessner, Hysteria is decidedly bolder and more grandiose, ornately embellished yet still restrained in its presentation. ‘I felt it from the beginning. I felt the intensity of the songs coming out and thought, ‘This needs a different backdrop musically. The music needs to match the intensity of the feelings.’’
The songs unfold patiently, careful not to intrude into the path of Sparke’s voice, which is resolute and lyrical. Sweet autumnal ditties – see Sad Is Love and Burn – intertwine with sharp, soul-bearing sermons (Blue; God Is A Woman’s Name; Set Your Fire On Me), making for a quietly anthemic set that seldom relinquishes its melodic edge. Cascading guitars collide with sparkling keyboards over sparse but thundering percussion. Diaristic indictments emerge as gliding birdsongs, reaffirming the notion that serenity and upheaval can coexist after all.
‘I’m still ruminating on a lot of the scenes and memories and dreams and feelings that are in these songs,’ Sparke says. Her imagery indeed creates a lasting impression. It haunts the gaps between truth and illusion, spaces often overlooked by the common eye. In her words, she regards the idea of peace with a quiet optimism, suggesting that the solace she seeks does not represent a point of arrival, but rather, a new way of seeing. ‘I wonder if I might look at the same things from a different vantage point now.’
From all angles, Hysteria offers an unsparing look into Indigo Sparke’s interior world. Its lens lays bare the struggles of coming to grips with chaos. In its head-on confrontation with existential uproar, it not only locks eyes with the void, it leaps into it, arms exalted, worries cast to the wind. The album subsequently becomes its own oasis, a pool of tranquility inside the eye of the storm. It teaches us that, ultimately, once entrapped inside the madness, often the only choice we have is to let go.
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