IF MARISSA NADLER, Aldous Harding, Joanna Newsom, Vashti Bunyan light up your world with otherworldly folk fire – and if they don’t, then maybe we can’t be friends after all – then you really need to take a seat right this minute, and be astonished by Australian folk artist Indigo Sparke, who’s recently inked on the dotted for Sacred Bones.
The music? It’s so, so very darkly pretty. But there’s lyrical grit in that shadowy musical velvet; she’s doesn’t hide away from the truths, from her lived experience: addiction and healing, queerness, heartbreak, but also joy.
Indigo was born in Sydney to a jazz singer and a musician and was named for the Duke Ellington song “Mood Indigo”; she grew up to a soundtrack of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. It’s fair to say this music comes from deep down; but she actually started out on a different career tack.
She attended a performing arts high school, followed that with acting school and was pursuing that before teaching herself to play guitar in her early twenties.
She began to carve out a reputation on the scene in Australia; a debut EP, Night Bloom, emerged in 2016. She opened for Big Thief on the Australian dates of their 2017-18 tour; played SXSW in 2019, which led to a coveted slot for an NPR Tiny Desk Concert last March. You can revel in that here. And then, in Wuhan …
That trip to Austin for SXSW saw her taking time out and just travelling Stateside, spending time in New York, Minneapolis, Topanga; seeing, writing, sketching out demos; and shaping her debut album, echo, with the guiding hand of Big Thief’s Adrienne Lenker, and that band’s producer, Andrew Sarlo. It was recorded in the Big Apple, LA, and in Italy, with finishing touches applied in New York’s Figure 8 Studio.
She says of echo: “When 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. Adrianne and I talked so much about keeping the record stripped back and simple … we are all just constantly getting stripped back and humbled by life.”
She’s burrowed so deep for this one, reached out into the world and down inside.
“I feel and have often felt a million different women ramble and reconfigure the corners of my mind and soul. I think in my life, I have ricocheted off so many different walls within myself.
“It’s an endless search to understand the mysteries of life and love and history. As soon as you think you’ve got it, it’s gone. Sometimes I feel so thin. Sometimes I feel so robust. I think that comes through the music.
“I feel that death and time hang over me like questions, I have felt the shimmer and the edge for so long now, but what I long for are the worlds of safety and safe love.
“There are so many windows in life to look through and so many ways to heal and express. My photography, poetry and music were born at a juncture mirroring different parts of me. I see and feel visually, I am obsessed with immortalizing memory.”
She’s clearly deeply creative and a hellishly deep thinker, experiencer; and this all feeds through to a record of stunning quality for a debut, placing her firmly out in the lushly shadowy folk realms of Marissa Nadler. Which is high praise indeed.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin with her single and video, “Everything Everything”, which we’ve embedded below.
It’s conversely the heralding first single and the album closer, a first-footing and a It’s jaw-dropping, mysterious, intimate, delicate; fashioned from simple guitar figures circling and circling, drawing you into a blissful but not quite serene lullaby, piano touches resonating; her voice has a breathy sibilance, a really very human texture and … frailty, I guess you’d frame it as. It has the kind of purity that’s jaw-dropping, yet also reveals, somehow, the flesh and blood, the ephemeral nature of the human condition. Oh, and those spoken-word payoff lines: “Everything, everything, everything, everything … everything is dying …” Whoah. Dark folk supreme.
Back to the beginning then, now, and aside from the single drop, our entry into Indigo’s sphere comes in “Colorblind”, thumb-stroked electric chords with a ringing, resonant open G, always a winner. It beds in and then: Christ, that voice. As a tune it’s gently folk-country, simple, but god so stunning. My jaw actually dropped the first time I heard her first line, and I’m still recovering, frankly. And then: she drops in an insouciant whistle. I’m off back to the start. I mean, imagine Marissa N getting a pick-up show with David Roback, and somehow you’ve jammed a front row spot, kinda great. I’m actually moved here . “There’s a knowing in your eyes … there’s a truth behind my lies,” Indigo soars, and you’re bewitched.
“Undone” winds it back a little and you’ll be glad, cos it’s moot whether your heart could stand the intensity. It’s more fireside acoustic, with confessional bite: “Demons have their ways, the games they play / Desert’s got my psyche, these bruises on my arms / God I feel like hell today,” Indigo imparts, and you can hear exactly where she’s been. She’s siren-singing you a lament, rising into a falsetto. “Bad Dreams” is a mood study; you can imagine her maybe playing this, cradling the guitar in a chair visible through an open doorway, the song picking up echo and atmosphere as it travels to where you’re standing, detached, observant. A crisp bass interjects occasionally lending steel to a lamenting mantra, pulling a trad switch and knitting into a stunning and fresh shape.
“Carnival” begins with Indigo posing the question: “Have you reached your capacity?” a capella with a bittersweet, honeyed power. Settle back; this one is all about a voice that’ll raise a shiver as she reaches for the skies over a simple waltz, her voice so strong. Partway in, when you think you have the measure of just how dynamic she is as a singer, she confounds once again with a hair-prickling microtonal slur, wordless, really eye-widening, in a song with the incense of The Pentangle wending its scent through the atmosphere.
“Dog Bark Echo” sees her reciting about the “wet, broken, dripping dream” of some doomed tryst, “tongue to tongue / Lip to life,” in some barely lit space, full of echo and hum, a stumbling, impressionistic guitar balancing and swaying on the knife-edge of either resolving into full melodic structure or collapsing entirely; and in that she recalls fellow countryman, the excellent Mick Turner. It’s like a song fragment just dissolving upon waking – from a dream or from an emotional encounter is left open.
“Golden Age” is a more upbeat sway, light flooding the room, in possession of a bounding freedom, Indigo again singing from the very bloody soul in a light misting of reverb, charming, seductive: “I need a place to stay / Can I wake up on your floor on my birthday?”, a memorable line. The guitars pick up a thrashy abandon, and she lifts for heaven once more, plectrum harmonics singing in support, and it’s over rather too quickly, tbh.
“Wolf”‘s pillow talk intimate, breathy, with the vulnerability of the openly desirous, that glittering-pupiled inner truth: that line “I am wet, I am burning” leaves you in no doubt, as the song sheds garments on the stairs, Indigo humming away in ecstasy, abstract studio resonances the only percussion.
“Baby Baby” is soothing and spectral all at once, a simply stated tale of the moment before lovers part, this time a little synth nuance holding a sustain to colour the delicacy above; Indigo’s voice rousing, cathartic, ripping into resonance that you can feel in your fibre. And then we’re back at the beginning as ending, “the circles,” of “Everything Everything”
I mean, what to say? Christ. Be in no doubt that Indigo isn’t merely playing with music as a form, a means to end; you can hear her very essence shot right through this record. It’s never less, at any point, than extremely lovely; at many points its genuinely bloody stunning. You know when someone has that alchemical it, and boy: Indigo incontrovertibly does. That she came to music as a form relatively late seems a surprise, when she seems to absolutely flow with understanding of it.
Yes, aha, but, you say: isn’t it musically quite simple? Yes, I reply, it is, it’s a voice and guitar, some bass, a little sprinkling of stings from other instruments sparingly and judiciously. But what, you’d level such a structural criticism against Mazzy Star? The Mary Chain, even? And thus deny how great and important they are?
True brilliance is to take a simple set of shapes and to render them stunningly; Indigo has done just that, with one of the most dynamic, expressive, seductive voices of … a very, very, very long time.
It’s not an album to have on in the background, because it’s far too arresting and enveloping, commanding; believe me I tried, but lost the thread of the other task after seconds, snared, pulled in. What a debut. She’s royalty in waiting on the leftfield folk scene. Barely anyone, surely, can touch her. Maybe Marissa Nadler; maybe, at her most purged and fiery, Aldous Harding. And that’s suddenly a maybe.
Indigo Sparke’s echo will be released by Sacred Bones digitally on February 19th; and on CD, trad black, red vinyl and deluxe red vinyl on May 21st. Orders are open for business now at Sacred Bones and Bandcamp.