Sarah Mcdougall’s music flows like a majestic “Grand Canyon Stream”
Sarah Macdougall is a hidden delight. Out of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Sarah has released two full albums- one in 2009, another in 2011 and a new one coming out Feb 24th.
There’s something earthy yet ethereal about Sarah’s sound. It’s familiar, yet embodies a new beast that I’m all in for- there’s a dark complexity to the lyrics that hint at this danger, this consuming something. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m excited/nervous to find out. There is an honesty to Sarah that holds the ability to break the barrier between artist and audience. I, for one, am ready to get wrecked by this honest darkness that exists in all of us that Sarah manages to bring to the foreground, while still maintaining a hopefulness and an eagerness that begs for more.
The opening track, “I Want To See The Light”, has simple picking guitar backed by a waving synth and shaky but solid drumbeat. Sarah sounds like a mix between Ellie Goulding and Laura Veirs, but also something entirely unique; at once soft and powerful, her voice blends seamlessly into the instrumental, creating an entirely new level of listening. The high-pitched backing vocals give the song a layered experience- it’s as if you’re being submerged entirely into the sound.
I’m not sure what I would classify this as- alternative folk acoustical fun perhaps. Sarah uses a lot of physicality within her lyrics, lending a very present feel to her sound. In “Sparrow head”, Sarah describes the art of falling in love (with a person or with a feeling or with a place) as this viscerally natural experience, similar to the ebb and flow of the tide—are just as volatile. Her very skeleton is feeling this ache that comes along with a shaky love, a new wavering heart that’s learning to beat in time with your own. The idea of evolving heartbeats doesn’t sound so absolutely terrifying when it’s sung by Sarah’s soft eager voice.
She weaves this intricate geographical and physical journey about finding a safe space within another human. Similar to the migration of the sparrows “In Her Head”, Sarah is taking this journey and all the trials that come along with it. I mean, I’ve never traveled from Vancouver to Winnipeg (no offense Winnipeg), but I imagine it’s not a smooth ride. Somehow, by taking this idea of a sparrow in flight, juxtaposed with a volatile tide at once grounded and in the clouds, Sarah creates this complex simplicity that perfectly encapsulates the HORROR, and also SHOCKING JOY, that goes along with falling for a human that maybe likes you back, or finding that place that shuts up the buzzing in your palms.
Now get ready for the coolest part of this album. Sarah is a Swedish-Canadian artist- this means she has an entire song in which not a lick of English is spoken, but I jam to it hard regardless. Mainly because it’s really soothing, soft strings, an echoing simple drumbeat, and Sarah’s gentle slow voice (speaking Swedish, no less) creates an atmosphere of a smoky lounge. I am sipping expensive scotch in a fur coat, a cigarette dangles from my fancy fingers; I wait for no one, and I am inexplicably sad. But despite this sadness there is a secret depth to me. I glare coolly at fellow patrons (think Sophia Loren at Jayne Mansfield circa 1957) and no one dare approach me for fear of scathing words, or a seeping sorrow that may touch their throat. My pearl necklace dangles elegantly and my diamond earrings glisten in the dark bar. I am sad, but I am wise because of this sadness like a willow tree. That is Malmö I Mitt Hjärta. Translated, this becomes“Malmö in my heart.”
This whole album is similar to a diary. Through juxtaposition and natural physicality, through the fragileness of a body, Sarah tells a story of a shaky love, a skinny love, that wavers with the changing tides, with the rough terrain. It is a search for a home, both within another body, and within another place. It is a search for oneself and an exploration of the geography of a body, of an emotion, and of a home. Sarah takes us with her on this cartographical exploration, at once exposing herself to the elements and to us in an attempt to grow, to change, to become someone that deserves all the things that they want. She is letting herself love, in all of the ways.
Listen to this album. I don’t care what you’re doing; sitting on the bus, working on your core to Jillian Anderson videos, eating carrots, drinking alone on your balcony while snow falls gently; whatever. Listen to this album, and let yourself find a solace within the anatomy of a journey through the self and through the other that Sarah has kindly offered to take us on. That was very nice of her.