One of Canada’s unsung singer songwriters of the past 15 years is Sarah Slean, whose quietly forged a loyal and appreciative fan base whom appreciate her piano alt pop ways with a hint of cabaret thrown in for good measure. “Metaphysics” in many ways feels like more of the same but in Sarah’s case that’s a good thing. She is able to weave in little nuances to create a fresh slant on her sound and its the same here too.
“Perfect Sky” is a great place to start for new fans with its openly whimsy but optimistic chords, lyrics and message. The chorus is uplifting and McLachlan-esque in some ways but Slean’s piano based music reminds me more of how Vienna Teng started out too in her earlier albums. There’s a purity and innocence here that’s difficult to pull off authentically and that carries through the power ballad “Every Rhythm Is A Beat” with its big finale. Even the more broodier tracks this time round have a softer sway to them as “The Dark” moves from a gypsy string arrangement to a spacious electronic percussive beat to then merge the two together into something quite beautiful.
However the hooks and cabaret side have not gone away as single “Sarah” shows. The cheeky lyrics, the perky brass background juxtaposed with sympathetic strings and the rolling piano riffs really showcase all her talents perfectly. I personally adore the more kooky side of Slean’s repertoire and the calm but creepy “A Thousand Butterflies” weaves a complex web of stories and sounds that become a fantastic ear worm that’s less apparent on the first listen but soon rises to be a favourite. “Holy Ground” instead is a country tinged ballad that’s beauty cannot be denied and is the soft caress the album needs. Immediately memorable and instantly sway-able to – it’s a dreamy piece.
As the album reaches it closure there’s a bitter-sweet feeling that imbues the closing trio of tracks for me. “Not In Vain” is all about bitter-sweet feelings from the chords, to the lyrics and the lilt of the voice and melody. In a different context, the spooky and withered “The Gypsy” has a haunting wisp of reflection in the space that surrounds the organs, guitars, strings and the echoed percussion that permeates the track. It’s more like a pilgrimage in some respects, but she already has a song called Pilgrim, but Gypsy is very apt for the sound. The string and vocal “Nothing But the Light” closes things off in an observational position as Slean sings of being alive surrounded in places of hell. It feels more religious than literal owing to the songs choral background and lyrics but it rounds the album off sweetly, at least on the surface.
“Metaphysics” is a great place to start as a Sarah Slean newbie as its very accessible and contains hallmarks from many of her previous albums. Whilst I do miss some of her more grittier rockier and electronica moments from her early work, I don’t long for them and that’s because Sarah Slean’s ability to write captivating songs remains true as ever. She can walk the tightrope between accessible radio friendly and deeper emotional meaning to perfection and this album is another reminder of that.
Recommended Track : Sarah