'Haunted Painting': Sad13 weaves a tale of intrigue filled with political commentary and confronting one's pain
Indie-rock act Sad13 returns with her latest project, the quirky, bordering on whimsical album 'Haunted Painting' that sees the singer confront her pain and rise above it. 'Haunted Painting', Sad13’s self-produced sophomore album and first for Dupuis’ label Wax Nine (Melkbelly, Johanna Warren), marks Dupuis’ return to artmaking after reconciling with the delayed processing of grief. Recorded at a variety of studios across the U.S., 'Haunted Painting' was made exclusively with women engineers, and features vocal contributions from Helado Negro’s Roberto Lange, Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, and Pile’s Rick Maguire. On this album, Sad13 weaves timely societal critiques into rushing hooks and whip-smart wordplay that’s all still a blast, making for one of the most essential releases you’ll hear all year.
Sadie Dupuis or 'Sad13' is one of the most prolific creators, let alone songwriters, in the independent space. Between playing in bands and projects like Babement, Quilty, Dark Warble, and Speedy Ortiz as well as Sad13 releases, she has miraculously found time to co-feature on a track with Lizzo, release a critically acclaimed poetry book, run her own record label, establish a poetry journal, co-curate a full-length and star-studded tribute to the late Adam Schlesinger, and find time to work with No Music for ICE, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, in addition to her unwavering advocacy for countless other issues. But contrary to what many might imagine from an artiste as busy and prolific as Dupuis, the singer, experiencing a writer's block of sorts was forced to confront previously unresolved grief, a task that became far more pertinent when she realized she was unable to create new music unless she processed her pain.
And out of this experience comes 'Haunted Painting', a blend of Dupuis' myriad of styles and sounds with her ability to weave a tale through her words. A tale that, this time around, is tinged with sadness and healing, a sense of maturity that stems from having weathered a few storms, and a healthy dose of experimentation to tie it all together. Dupuis' vocals, a combination of dreamy and poignant, float effortlessly over the equally dreamy synth- and retro-pop tracks that harken back to something from the '80s. Yet, Dupuis keeps things fresh and contemporary, making 'Haunted Painting' feel like something that hangs in-between space and time. And that makes it, rather poetically, quite true to its name.
Dupuis offers an interesting anecdote on how this record came to be. While at the Frye Gallery in Seattle, a ghost spoke to her. Well, at least the approximation of one. It was an early 20th
century painting of the dancer Saharet by German expressionist Franz von Stuck, one of many gold-framed oil paintings in the gallery that, with their washed-out faces, under-eye circles, and expressions that told tall tales could very well have been haunted by the ghosts of people past. Those paintings sparked something in Dupuis, and she began to write. The name, 'Haunted Painting', stems from this experience, as do the songs contained therein. "Some of these songs feel like emotions that came from a cloud, and I was trying to translate them,” shares Dupuis.
But the scope of a Sad13 song is rarely only personal. As always, Dupuis weaves social critique into catchy hooks and peppers in some wordplay to create a whole experience for her listeners. Riffer 'WTD?' is about climate gentrification and billionaires’ consequent desire to colonize the ocean and space. Album opener 'Into the Catacombs', which melds orchestral strings with glitched-out horror sounds, came after a 2016 trip to Buenos Aires’ human rights memorial ESMA with her mother, Diane Dupuis—who also painted the Stuck-inspired cover image of her child as a ghost. The heart-tugging 'Hysterical' was inspired by the convoluted logic of outdated offense comedians and skewers apathy with wit in a dizzying power-pop rush. 'Ghost (of a Good Time)' is an oddball dance anthem for the introverts and anti-nostalgists among us, inspired by a recent Bushwick basement show with a 1 a.m. start-time Dupuis may have tolerated a decade ago, but not so much anymore.
'Good Grief', originally written by Dupuis for her father when he was diagnosed with cancer was later rewritten to be about "how normal things look surreal after mourning." The syncopated, swaggering 'Oops...!' ties things up as a heavy reflection on Dupuis' own “vengeance complex” that can crop up in the face of flagrant abuses of power. And the 808-and-arp-indebted track 'The Crow' stemmed from losses Dupuis endured while working on the album. 'Haunted Painting' braids the political and the poetic, interests that extend to Dupuis’ recent work with No Music for ICE, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, and as editor of the newly-established Wax Nine poetry journal. But it also weaves in the every day and the mundane, the ups and the downs.
All of this finds Dupuis, already one of the sharpest lyricists of her generation, leveling up as an arranger and producer. Drawing inspiration from 1980s British pop-rock à la Tracy Ullman and Joan Armatrading, as well as the contemporary digital gloss of post-PC Music electronica, she calls 'Haunted Painting' “decidedly non-minimal,” mixing technicolor synth-pop and math-rock dynamism. Accompanied throughout by drummer Zoë Brecher—and, on two songs, by an eight-piece orchestra—Dupuis handles all other instrumentation herself, expanding her palette of guitar, bass, and synth to include organ, lap steel, marimba, glockenspiel, sitar, autoharp, theremin, “toys, trash, and ephemera.” Dupuis tailored her arrangements to the gear lists of six different U.S. studios, scheduling time in between Speedy Ortiz’s festival dates and touring her book Mouthguard.
Reflecting on her pain in the wake of the death of yet another hero of hers, the musician and poet David, Dupuis penned a poignant piece. "The future just confounds me," she wrote. "Who dares find joy in this terror?" Death, evidently leaves her conflicted: "I’ve spent my life working on music, but art can feel inadequate in a world of escalating crisis. Art is not enough to keep your heroes with you. How do we process that?" 'Haunted Painting' answers these musings rather simply: with art.
'Haunted Painting' releases on September 25.