Sadie Dupuis has had a hand in almost every creative aspect of the music industry—between playing in her indie rock band Speedy Ortiz, collaborating with Lizzo, running Wax Nine Records and combining music with advocacy, she’s done it all. Now, Dupuis is back with her first solo album since 2016’s Slugger under the moniker Sad13.
The writing process for Dupuis’ new album Haunted Painting started after she witnessed an apparition at a Seattle art gallery, but she dives into ideas larger than her own haunting experiences. “What was it like to come of age in such a cruel place?” Dupuis sings on “The Crow.” The album leans on a loose horror theme, between the vampiric video for early single “Oops….!” and Dupuis presenting as a self-proclaimed “frontdemon.” Despite the concept, lyrics like those on “The Crow” feel aware of their place at this moment amid a tense political climate and months spent in pandemic isolation.
Recorded across the country and crafting the concept starting in 2016, Haunted Painting’s appeal lies both in the production and Dupuis’ commitment to creativity. Throughout the tracklist, the album features vocal collaborations with Helado Negro’s Roberto Lange, Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki, tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus and Pile’s Rick Maguire. Additionally, Sarah Tudzin (Illuminati Hotties) lent a hand in mixing, along with engineers Erin Tonkon and Maryam Qudus.
Opening with “Into The Catacombs,” the eerie droning feels like a proper welcome to a graveyard party, especially with the layered harmonies. “WTD?” features some of the most relevant lyrics on Dupuis’ sophomore album as Sad13, including “Hold me close ‘til next year’s drama” and opening line “Some of us are gonna die,” doubling as a proper 2020 comparison. The track also includes a compelling electric rock kick that shifts its sound as the song progresses.
In terms of Haunted Painting’s sonics, Dupuis also shifts a lot throughout Haunted Painting, making each song stand out in its own individual, creative way. “Hysterical” was the most recent of the record’s singles and features an eclectic-but-exciting blend of electronic sequences and percussion from drummer Zoë Brecher. Hypothetically, if a ghost or an alien ever wanted to create a skateboarding video, “Hysterical” could serve as the soundtrack.
“Ghost (of a Good Time)” highlights Dupuis’ influence in pop rock from the 1980s, crafting catchy choruses that will happily embed themselves in your memory. Days after I first heard this song, I still kept catching myself humming, “chasing the ghost of a good time” to make mundane tasks much more thrilling.
Yet, one of the most intriguing aspects of Haunted Painting is included on “Take Care.” The song opens with the focus on Dupuis as a vocalist. Between the slower pacing and backing vocals, it feels different from the rest of Haunted Painting. There’s no synths or guitar lines, but, rather, an orchestral instrumental that feels perfectly placed. Any other form of instrumentation would’ve felt out of place with the lyrics’ somber tone.
“I’m just an adult dirtbag,” Dupuis sings on the album’s closing track “Market Hotel.” An ode to both the New York venue and the city as a whole, the song serves as the right choice to end Haunted Painting. The lyric appears as a possible flip of Wheatus’ classic “Teenage Dirtbag,” while the full song details the realities of being a musician. (“I’m working three fucking jobs / I’m too embarrassed to die / I do door here some nights / That’s why we met three or more times.”) Dupuis tackles subjects like industry sexism and financial uncertainty over an electric guitar in just under two minutes. “Market Hotel” is an encapsulation of the real world compared with the spookier fantasies present earlier on the record.
Haunted Painting is a record full of exciting dance bops courtesy of Dupuis. Overall, it contains layers that make it perfect for the Halloween season and aware of the current social and political climates. Dupuis is able to happily immerse listeners into her world—one filled with the thought-provoking lyricism that becomes easily consumed through addictive instrumentation choices, be it synths, larger-than-life orchestrals or punky performances.
Watch Sad13’s 2017 Paste Studio session: