Sarah Mary Chadwick’s voice has always sounded devastating — her sparse “Confetti” was one of the most moving songs of the year — and that voice sounds like it’s on the verge of breaking apart throughout “Please Daddy,” an elegy for her late father. The New Zealand–born, Melbourne-based artist can barely form the word “please” toward the end of the song, as she tries to make sense of death.
Although she built the tune from a slow-rolling piano line, gentle trumpet and flute lines, and a vocal line that seems to ascend to the heavens, “Please Daddy” may be Chadwick’s most distressing work to date. She sings each verse to her mother, telling her, “nothing stirs me,” “nothing’s bringing color to my cheeks.” By the time she reaches the center of the song, she contemplates killing herself — “All the ones who died while trying/Should I follow their lead and be done, daddy?” — and she lists artists who died by suicide: Anne Sexton, Elliott Smith, Sylvia Plath. But by the next verse, she has a change of heart and gives up on ending herself.
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This sort of pivot is Chadwick’s secret weapon, and it’s what makes the song a keeper. That pirouette of mood spins the song in a new direction — not necessarily one of hope, but one that is not overtly destructive. And she’s able to pull it off without it sounding corny or disingenuous because of the stream-of-consciousness approach she has with the music. Where the first part of the song is deceptively jaunty, her first step toward life seems to fall apart (or relax?), as the piano part becomes almost impressionistic and understated. As she begs for solace — “Pick a magic, help me through it/Is it tragic? I’ll still do it” — the trumpet and flute swirl around her voice creating rare beauty. She’s giving in to the music, and it’s supporting her. The passiveness in the music saves her.
By the time it’s done, you’ve gone on a rare journey into grief, where passiveness is the only path toward sunlight. It doesn’t even need a chorus. It’s only the third track on Chadwick’s upcoming LP, also titled Please Daddy (her dedication on the record reads, “This is for my Dad. With belated love.”), which can only mean that the rest of the record (due out January 24th) will go even deeper. The song, is a warning, a preamble, for what will likely be one of the most heartbreaking albums of the new decade.
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