Kill Rock Stars
September 15, 2023
1. Don’t Tell Me I’m a Good Friend
2. I Felt Things In New Zealand
3. Angry and Violent
4. Drinkin’ on a Tuesday
5. Shitty Town
6. Sometimes I Just Wanna Feel Bad
7. Someone Else’s Baby
8. Only Bad Memories Last
9. C’mon Stud
10. Looked Just Like Jesus
ABOUT THE RELEASE
Messages to God is the eighth studio record from Melbourne’s Sarah Mary Chadwick. Composed of broad, brightly coloured spiritual strokes, it consists of dramatic retellings of having your heart broken, existing, movement and growth while always meditating on the past. Messages to God is Chadwick’s most dynamic record to date. It is also her first ever record made alongside Executive Producer Tony Espie, award winning producer of the acclaimed Avalanches.
The record started with file sharing—Chadwick sending demos to Espie and her long-time collaborator and close friend, Hank Clifton-Williamson – and slowly transformed into a full studio effort, elevated by the inspired production of Espie. The result is a record that is arresting and ambient, with Chadwick’s vocals and keys very much front and center.
Chadwick has described her most recent three records as a triptych – three pieces of work drenched in grief and struggling to get out. This record signals a change; whether profound or momentary, time will tell. There is an undoubted strength and love of life underpinning these songs, and a feeling less claustrophobic than her earlier work.
Indeed, Messages to God, like all of Chadwick’s music, is centered around her completely singular approach to songwriting and storytelling. Messages to God is perhaps a more universal record in terms of its content than 2021’s Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby yet it is still unquestionably intimate.
“Shitty Town” was one of the first songs written for the record. ‘It’s a leaving a place kind of song’. Chadwick says that when she visualized it, she saw someone packing up a suitcase, going somewhere. “I watch through the window at my life,” she sings, “It seems to function/but who’s driving/this shitty car?” All around her, keys are resonant, flutes shimmer in the backdrop. “Someone Else’s Baby” is hysteric desire at its finest – the ever-shifting goal post of wanting what you don’t have, always creating psychic debt.
“Looked Just Like Jesus” takes its title and lyrics from Chadwick’s Catholic school teacher mom saying that her boyfriend at the time looked just like an artist’s rendition of Jesus that she had in her classroom. The song is delicately textured, full of little synth flickers and tremors. Chadwick’s voice is searching, she sings about how maybe her mom needed a girlfriend, that “if you’re tryin’ to walk with god/it pays to wear good shoes.”
On “Drinkin’ on a Tuesday” Chadwick writes about being a sad person alone at a bar and being honest with yourself about how you’re doing. But more breathtakingly, it’s a song about the inevitability of ‘failure’, therefore the important part is what you do, how you bounce back, how you make a framework to contain you when things break. The song is a jaunty bar room mess with Clifton-Williamson and Chadwick playing the piano at the same time.
To finesse and inhabit these songs, Chadwick did a year-long residency in 2021 at Avalon Bar in Melbourne. She played with Clifton-Williamson every Wednesday night for free, amounting to around 50 shows. It gave her the opportunity to really feel the songs she was writing, inside and out. It shows. As does Chadwick’s continued and deepening interest in psychoanalysis, something she believes keeps her art mobile and from stagnating.
A prolific visual artist alongside her songwriting, Chadwick’s cover art of this record mirrors the slight alteration in tone; whereas previously, self-portraits of herself alone fronted her releases, now she has pictured herself amongst a group around a piano. Still not looking at peace, but surrounded by people, nonetheless. The record cover is pastel and brightly coloured. Less music for the simply downhearted, more for the thoughtful and always analysing.
Messages to God is a beautifully realized record. It’s not happy but it is funny and optimistic. It is melodramatic, self-serving and generous. Sometimes, from way back in the shitty seats of the theater, you’re at your closest to god. That’s what this record is like, finding beauty in everyday occurrences. Because it’s there. You just gotta look really hard sometimes. And as Chadwick provides, “Because every day’s just one more day / trying to write messages to god’’.