Music: Indigo Sparke – Hysteria (2022)

Indigo Sparke’s second album is at once majestic and sublime, a complex ode to life, love, relationships, and the power of a woman’s beating heart, sometimes alone but never lonely.

Photo: Indigo Sparke, photo by Angela Ricciardi

21 October 2022 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News

From Apple Music: “I am alone, but I’m not lonely,” sings Indigo Sparke on her second album, written during lockdown in her home country of Australia after a stint in New York.

That self-possessed air is characteristic of Hysteria, which documents the singer-songwriter coming to terms with simmering personal drama. In fact, many of these songs play like sensitive exorcisms of anxiety and other woes.

Observe the rousing titular refrain coming to a head on “Pressure in My Chest.” Working with producer/multi-instrumentalist Aaron Dessner (The National, Taylor Swift), guitarist Shahzad Ismaily (Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog), and drummer Matt Barrick (The Walkmen) upon her return to New York, Sparke instills these songs with intimacy and warmth.

That’s there in the lightly brushed drums and dusky keyboards of “Pluto,” as well as during the more upbeat folk pop of the title track.

Whatever the tempo, Sparke’s voice flutters with refreshing lightness before gathering strength for another well-earned catharsis.

Indigo Sparke Hysteria

Rough Trade: Indigo Sparke’s majestic second full-length album Hysteria is a sweeping work, one that possesses a rare, reflective power. On it, she examines love, loss, her history, and the emotional upheaval surrounding those sensations: her words tell the stories, and the sounds act them out. It’s a diary built for big stages.

Hysteria arrives just a year after her striking, minimalist debut, Echo. Here, though, Sparke offers an expansive body of work—it’s a complex collection that expands her sound and outlook.

Work on Hysteria began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, while Sparke was stranded in quarantine in her native Australia. After moving back to New York in the spring of 2021, Sparke finished writing the album’s 14 songs and decamped upstate with producer Aaron Dessner (The National, Taylor Swift). “Originally we were going to co-write, but after he heard my demos he said, ‘There’s so much in here already,’” Sparke recalls on how Dessner, who also contributes instrumentation along with guitarist Shahzad Izmaily and drummer Matt Barrick (The Walkmen, Muzz), got involved in bringing Hysteria to life.

Centering Sparke’s powerful vocals throughout, Hysteria is packed with big guitars and layered instrumentation that practically acts as the album’s lungs, giving every note breath. From the pulsing immediacy of “Infinite Honey” to the soaring “God Is a Woman’s Name” and “Hold On”’s towering chorus, this is music that sounds huge even as it zooms in on the trials and turmoils of one’s inner life.

You can hear Sparke reflecting on reconciliation, grief, hope, and the passage of time on the perpetually building “Pressure in My Chest” and the airy, Joni Mitchell-esque title track, which finds her embracing a gorgeous upper register over gently strummed guitar. “Set Your Fire on Me” builds and bursts not unlike Angel Olsen’s own raw folk-rock expressionism—and then there’s the stark opener and first single “Blue,” which acts as a cosmic road map for Sparke’s own journey in life. Sparke observes while reflecting on Hysteria’s thematic bent “these songs are about being at the axis point of love right at the edge of hysteria and how that transformed me.”

Aimee Cliff | Pitchfork

The Australian folk artist’s second album is glossier and broader than its predecessor, but the most stunning moments are still ones of hushed reverence.

If Indigo Sparke’s 2021 debut, Echo, felt like a whisper in your ear, her follow-up feels like a howl from a mountaintop. On Hysteria, the Australian folk singer-songwriter opens up her world, a change that’s also reflected in personnel.

Where Echo, with its goosebump vocals and fingers brushing guitar strings, was produced with Big Thief’s Adrianne LenkerHysteria is the result of a collaboration with Aaron Dessner, the National multi-instrumentalist who has also worked with Taylor Swift.

With support from Dessner, Sparke sings defiantly over full-bodied instrumentation. But the newfound spaciousness isn’t only expressed in the music: her songwriting, too, stretches further, running as far as the eye can see.

Sparke wrote the majority of this album during the early months of 2020, when she was struggling under the weight of a collapsing relationship at the same time that society seemed to be falling apart, too. “

The grief opened a doorway to the past I thought I had made peace with,” she explained in a press release. “But there were days where I just couldn’t get off the floor. It felt like everything was falling through this hole in my chest.” The emotions of Hysteria are elemental forces: a red moon sinking (“Time Gets Eaten”) or a cypress tree growing from your abdomen (“Infinity Honey”). They refuse to stay put inside the individual body: Instead, they reach outward through generations, society, and the earth itself.

The album is bracketed by two of its best songs, which both use a sweeping, montage-style approach to storytelling.

On the opening “Blue,” the layering of Sparke’s vocal creates a forlorn and restless choir, as she repeats the same melodic motif over insistent, driving guitar strums. The song moves relentlessly while Sparke offers glimpses at emergency after emergency: domestic abuse, relationship breakdowns, desperate phone calls in the dead of night. The details are spare yet searing; it’s both a deeply personal catharsis and something seen distantly.

“Burn,” the closing track, sways loosely, Sparke’s voice gliding over jangling acoustic chords as she delves into cobwebbed childhood nightmares and the long shadow of familial trauma. The lineage Sparke evokes in these songs is a specifically female-coded one: Hysteria, after all, takes its root from the Greek “hystera,” meaning “uterus,” and it’s a word loaded with patriarchal history. Sparke reclaims it on this album, using imagery of tides, moons, and wombs to depict heavy emotions with solemnity.

Hysteria showcases Sparke’s ability to glide between minimalism and more forceful storms. While the surface of this album is glossier and broader than its predecessor, the most stunning moments are still ones of hushed reverence: “Real” is an earthy ballad with Sparke singing alone over fingerpicking as she evokes a feeling of ghostly hunger.

This quiet moment feels more poignant placed near the rousing, ember-stoking drama of “Set Your Fire on Me.” On the lustrous highlight “God Is a Woman’s Name,” Sparke blends both extremes of her sound, with soft blush verses and strident choruses that focus on her pleading ritualistic chant: “Pray, pray, pray.”

At 14 tracks, Hysteria is a longer album than Echo, and it doesn’t always maintain its intensity. The push and pull between ballads and bolder songs sometimes sacrifices the momentum.

But the wider lens, which allows Sparke to dial up both her indie-rock sound and sweeping songwriting, is still impressive. During the bluesy swoon of “Time Gets Eaten,” she shines in her upper register, half-rhyming “love is a lie” with “love is still alive,” leaving an unresolved tension between the two as she sighs, “Love is.” It’s as though the song is a Rorschach test, checking how hopeful you’re feeling that day. Despite the darkly personal themes, Sparke’s sprawling horizons always create space for you inside.

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