Early Sunday morning, I strapped on my headphones so as not to disturb Diane, the cat or neighbors and clicked play on Australian singer-songwriter Indigo Sparke’s debut album, Echo. I noticed its release listed in Apple Music’s “indie folk” genre on Friday and decided to give it a go today – as background music while waking up, essentially. At first blush, it’s lo-fi, hushed and intimate, the kind of music that – in theory, at least – blends into the background while the coffee kicks in. But the nine songs don’t hang back; they circulate and percolate their way to the foreground, demand attention. They are, in a sense, fever dreams set to song, intense.
“Colourblind,” which opens the set, is a perfect example. It floats in from the horizon as if on a gentle breeze, but sidesteps gauzy sentiments while relating the stark realities of a failing relationship: “There’s a distance in our words/there’s a distance and it hurts and/all the king’s horses/all the king’s men, well, couldn’t/no, they couldn’t put it all back together again…”
Sparke co-produced the album alongside Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker and Andrew Sarlo, who – among other credits – helmed Courtney Marie Andrew’s Old Flowers album; she’d been slated to open for Big Thief on their planned Australia-New Zealand trek in 2020 prior to the pandemic putting everything on hold. Framed by sparse instrumentation, including herself on acoustic guitar, she whispers, speaks and sings the lyrics, a self-professed “orchestra of truth” whose word symphonies alternate between social realism and abstract expressionism.
Pretty much every review or article I’ve read about her borrows from a press release the Brooklyn-based Sacred Bones label issued in January, when it announced they’d signed her, so I thought I’d do the same, but quote it verbatim: “Indigo Sparke brings her deeply personal lived experiences to her music, highlighting the spaces between the polarity of softness and grit. Pulling from her experiences of addiction, of healing, of queerness, of heartbreak, of joy, of connection, of the softness and of the grit alchemising it all into tenderness through her music, she conjures up a myriad of feelings that is undeniably potent.”
That’s true, but verbose. I’d have phrased it differently: These are murmurs from the heart and soul, one part poetry and one part prose. It’s the powerful “Carnival” culminating in the unlikely admission that “I feel like I can’t feel…”
…and the haunting “Everything Everything,” in which she shares an unlikely epiphany: Everything, everyone, is dying. The young, the healthy, the old, the infirm – we all, every day, are one step closer to death. The past gave way to the present and the present will soon fold into the future; what we do will not, cannot, stop us from falling into the universe’s big black void.
In the release announcing the album, she’s quoted as saying that “[w]hen writing and recording the record, I wondered how it would all come together. I felt like I was standing back in the desert, looking up at the blue night sky, wondering how all the stars would connect. I think sometimes it’s the dark matter or void space between them, that holds it all together. This record is an ode to death and decay. And the restlessness I feel to belong to something greater.” Whether she achieved all of that, I don’t know – it’s too early to say. But I can proclaim that Echo is one of those albums you’ll play a second time if you play it once, and play it a third, fourth and fifth time after that. It’s highly recommended.
The track list: