If Indigo Sparke’s 2021 debut, Echo, felt like a whisper in your ear, her follow-up feels like a howl from a mountaintop. On Hysteria, the Australian folk singer-songwriter opens up her world, a change that’s also reflected in personnel. Where Echo, with its goosebump vocals and fingers brushing guitar strings, was produced with Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker, Hysteria is the result of a collaboration with Aaron Dessner, the National multi-instrumentalist who has also worked with Taylor Swift. With support from Dessner, Sparke sings defiantly over full-bodied instrumentation. But the newfound spaciousness isn’t only expressed in the music: her songwriting, too, stretches further, running as far as the eye can see.
Sparke wrote the majority of this album during the early months of 2020, when she was struggling under the weight of a collapsing relationship at the same time that society seemed to be falling apart, too. “The grief opened a doorway to the past I thought I had made peace with,” she explained in a press release. “But there were days where I just couldn’t get off the floor. It felt like everything was falling through this hole in my chest.” The emotions of Hysteria are elemental forces: a red moon sinking (“Time Gets Eaten”) or a cypress tree growing from your abdomen (“Infinity Honey”). They refuse to stay put inside the individual body: Instead, they reach outward through generations, society, and the earth itself.
The album is bracketed by two of its best songs, which both use a sweeping, montage-style approach to storytelling. On the opening “Blue,” the layering of Sparke’s vocal creates a forlorn and restless choir, as she repeats the same melodic motif over insistent, driving guitar strums. The song moves relentlessly while Sparke offers glimpses at emergency after emergency: domestic abuse, relationship breakdowns, desperate phone calls in the dead of night. The details are spare yet searing; it’s both a deeply personal catharsis and something seen distantly. “Burn,” the closing track, sways loosely, Sparke’s voice gliding over jangling acoustic chords as she delves into cobwebbed childhood nightmares and the long shadow of familial trauma. The lineage Sparke evokes in these songs is a specifically female-coded one: Hysteria, after all, takes its root from the Greek “hystera,” meaning “uterus,” and it’s a word loaded with patriarchal history. Sparke reclaims it on this album, using imagery of tides, moons, and wombs to depict heavy emotions with solemnity.
Hysteria showcases Sparke’s ability to glide between minimalism and more forceful storms. While the surface of this album is glossier and broader than its predecessor, the most stunning moments are still ones of hushed reverence: “Real” is an earthy ballad with Sparke singing alone over fingerpicking as she evokes a feeling of ghostly hunger. This quiet moment feels more poignant placed near the rousing, ember-stoking drama of “Set Your Fire on Me.” On the lustrous highlight “God Is a Woman’s Name,” Sparke blends both extremes of her sound, with soft blush verses and strident choruses that focus on her pleading ritualistic chant: “Pray, pray, pray.”
At 14 tracks, Hysteria is a longer album than Echo, and it doesn’t always maintain its intensity. The push and pull between ballads and bolder songs sometimes sacrifices the momentum. But the wider lens, which allows Sparke to dial up both her indie-rock sound and sweeping songwriting, is still impressive. During the bluesy swoon of “Time Gets Eaten,” she shines in her upper register, half-rhyming “love is a lie” with “love is still alive,” leaving an unresolved tension between the two as she sighs, “Love is.” It’s as though the song is a Rorschach test, checking how hopeful you’re feeling that day. Despite the darkly personal themes, Sparke’s sprawling horizons always create space for you inside.
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