Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Rachael Sage, a veteran of the independent music scene who's been releasing music since her teenage years. Such a long journey has resulted in a massive catalog and international following. She’s got a dozen albums under her belt and she isn’t showing any signs of stopping any time soon. Her latest endeavor is ‘Choreographic,’ a full-length ode to her love for dance and ballet, the original muse for her creativity. Let’s explore the album and see if it’s worth adding to your collection this summer.
The opening of the album, ‘Heaven (Is A Grocery Clerk)’ is an intriguing introduction, offering a sonic palette chock-full of different styles. Obviously, the song is very danceable. Outside of that, however, there’s some experimental pop at play that bounces back and forth with sweeping stringed instrumentation and acoustic instruments. It’s quirky, surprisingly honest, and a lovely introduction to ‘Choreographic.’ It's surprising how superb the production is; Sage stands tall amidst her independent counterparts. There is a lot going on in ‘Heaven,’ but it never feels cumbersome or cluttered.
When ‘Heaven’ opens up the album, the listener is met with an infectious landscape that while wonderful, may lack some lyrical depth. Sage does, however, attempt to balance catchy pop ballads and introspective songwriting with a certain level of grace. The second track, ‘Loreena,’ is one of the best tracks on the album, and Sage’s lyrics are impeccable. The detail of the production is remarkable, and Sage’s vocals are stunning. She has a unique innocence that’s instantly lovable. That innocence isn’t blind, however, and songs like ‘Loreena’ also feel articulately wise.
‘Try Try Try’ combines rock elements with the ‘ballet-pop’ of the previous tracks, and it does this to great effect. I love the different instrumental themes at play in the song. The stringed instrumentation offers a French gypsy-esque type of atmosphere, akin to perhaps Bob Dylan’s ‘Desire’ era. When that subsides back into the landscape, however, crunchy electric guitars and organs arise. That style, though, is quickly departed for ‘Home (Where I Am Now),’ a soft, homebody ballad. “Home is where you set your spirit down,” Sage croons in the elegant pop song.
‘I Don’t Believe It’ is an inspirational song by nature, like quite a few of these songs. Sage’s dominance of her sound is impressive, and she feels like the catalyst for the music backing her, rather than the other way around. ‘Choreographic’ is an album that feels emotionally stable and secure. It’s a victory lap, I’d argue, of Sage’s mastery of the art she began years ago as a teenager. Songs like ‘I Don’t Believe It’ and ‘French Doors’ offer some wisdom about growing as a human being. The latter, in particular, is a jaunt through all of the lessons Sage has learned in the last few years, accentuated beautifully by a horn included in the composition.
‘Clear Today’ is a somber track, despite its uplifting composition. It’s a break-up song that’s painful, but with Sage’s realization of leaving her partner at the end of the track, the listener is left with a peculiar sense of finality. It doesn’t feel too sad or heartbreaking, because it’s clear that Sage is exercising independence over her heart, which is refreshing, rather than her getting lost in heartbrokenness. ‘I’ve Been Waiting’ then offers a bluesy excursion through Sage’s emotions as she muses about the end of her relationship.
At this point, it is worth noting that ‘Choreographic’ is a sound unto itself. Sage is combining genres at her leisure to grand effect, and each song on the album feels whole, authentic, and dramatically different than its counterparts. At the same time, however, these songs work better as a collection. After listening to the album thrice over, I finally found the parallel I was looking for to describe Sage. She has the innocence of Kacey Musgraves, the lyrical wit and bite of Dolores O’Riordan, and the vocal and musical style of Laurie Anderson. (Seriously, that latter comparison is eerie. Songs like ‘Clear Today’ feel like they’re straight out of one of Anderson’s albums. A high compliment, considering Anderson is a complete genius.)
One of the central themes of ‘Choreographic’ is the emptiness that Sage felt during her relationship and shortly after it. She paints a sonic portrait of a troubled woman lost in her own emotions and unhappy with herself. As I mentioned above, I think the record is a resounding victory lap. Sage seems to have overcome these hurdles enough to pen these songs and look back in such a sage way. (Hah, see what I did there? Okay, moving on.) ‘Learn To Let You Go’ feels like the finale of that emotional turmoil as she lets go of her previous relationship and some of the personal demons it capitalized on.
The brooding ‘Five Alarms’ creates a terrific atmosphere doused in reverb. I’d argue it’s eclipsed, however, by ‘7 Angels’ a song that Sage duets with Peter Himmelman on. Their chemistry and harmony is absolutely fantastic, and a highlight of the album. The closer, ‘It Would Be Enough,’ wraps up the album with Sage coming to terms with the relationship that ended. (There’s also an acoustic version of ‘Home’ that’s splendid and very much worth adding to your regular listening experience of this album.)
You heard it on the Independent Spotlight first - Rachael Sage is a new generation’s Laurie Anderson. (Musically, at least. I doubt she’s making musical instruments out of old camera film.) ‘Choreographic’ is a gripping album unlike anything in the indie scene. It’s poignant, lovable, relatable, and incredibly, incredibly good.