Sad13 is the glittery pop side-project of Speedy Ortiz frontwoman Sadie Dupuis. Her latest release Haunted Painting is an exercise in contrast, as she layers complex experiences and emotions in a bubbly veneer of pop. Big hooks and high-energy choruses go at odds with fuzzy guitars. Quirky instrument choices and diverse moods can easily through polar opposites in tone. Dupuis can move from creepy and haunting in one track to charming and bouncy in the next. Oftentimes without breaking the flow of the record, making for one engaging listen.
With its bright pop aesthetic, the first listen of this album can feel misleading, only revealing itself once you get through it a few more times. “Hysterical” sounds bright and catchy — oddly reminiscent of tunes you used to sing with your friends in highschool. Except the lyrics paint a different story, with the narrator going into a heated fight with someone, detailing imagery that doesn’t shy away from being gruesome: “Carve a little piece of my heart, then chop the rest for parts / You wanna see me disappear”. In “Ghost(of a Good Time)”, Dupuis uses bubbly synth pop to explain to her friends why she doesn’t want to go out and party anymore. “Chasing the ghost of a good time, you start to regress to a past life”, she sings, suggesting that it’s time for them to move on from their past inhibitions.
There are many surprising turns in this album, but my favorites are at the tail end. “With Baby” echoes 80’s pop-rock with its neon synths and fuzzy guitars, which transitions daringly to “The Crow” — a macabre piece with haunting arpeggios and a few distorted guitars away from going neoclassical. Dupuis drops the terror with her lyricism yet again: “What was it like to come of age / In such a cruel place / Supping on the bones / Of your old Chaperones?”. This in turn followed by the sweetest and most beautiful track in the album.
“Take care” has an orchestral instrumentation filled with fluttering woodwinds and angelic harmonies. The guitars and drums are replaced with lush keys and strings. Dupuis shares her sentimental side, declaring her openness to love : “I care / If you’re ready to take care”
It’s creepy, it’s haunting, mesmerizing and inventive. Haunted Painting is like that piece of art that catches your eye for its beauty and wonder, urging you to stop by and inspect its nuances. If you do, you’ll surely be rewarded for your time, but either way you’ll have a great experience that’s sure to last.