All hail the baroness

With a new formula and a dropped label, Canadian songstress Sarah Slean returns with a new album that promises to inspire wonder

Sarah credits her time in Paris as inspiration for her fifth studio album.
Sarah credits her time in Paris as inspiration for her fifth studio album.

Sarah Slean has cut her ties and excess cargo. The Juno nominated singer-songwriter has recently slid away from the turbulence of her twenties and is following her art into new alleyways of expression.

Known for her alterations to the female pianist adult alternative formula, she’s surprised with the peaceful ballads on her most recent full-length album, The Baroness, which was released in March 2008.

“It was definitely the last cover of a very big book. … It was the end of the tortuous questioning, the self-loathing struggles of my twenties.”

The LP certainly severed some story lines. When The Baroness dropped in early 2008, long time listeners were greeted with the deviation of a more traditional welcome.

“I feel like all the painful relationship narratives are over—I came out of that dark tunnel,” she said. “I really see the purity in the songs on [The Baroness]. It’s a result of the mania and diversity of tracks [from earlier albums] like ‘Day One’ and ‘Another Midnight.’”

The current incarnation of Slean, also exposed on December’s EP, The Baroness Redecorates, is the product of ample obedience to the whims of the angsty muses on her earlier records. She now boasts clean production of quiet confidence which startles with its competence.

“A song like ‘Looking for Someone’—it’s my closest to a standard,” she said. “It’s so simple, so clean. There’s nothing extra at all.”

Slean asserts that music comes through her. The muses come and go, and lately have been packing substantially less baggage. Slean describes the purity of this straight pop expression as a stillness in her musical trajectory, reminiscent of her description of poetry and juxtaposing her understanding of the nature of music.

“There’s something that’s always around, constantly music. That’s why people like Nietzsche thought that music was the highest art. Like life, music never ceases. It’s constantly changing, it’s all about time, time unfolding, constant change. That’s the only truth there is,” she said. “With poetry, you get a poetic thought and that’s a moment of stillness, completeness. You pulled something out of time and grabbed on it to it.”

Despite Slean’s description of music as ceaseless change, her latest work sounds like an album pulled—like a poetic thought—out of time. It is a reminder of the true meaning of a record—an archive of a lived musical moment, a method of sharing the memory of wonder.

“Where is wonder, what is wonder? Nobody really understands where it is. The joint, that node, this weird thing we call consciousness, human consciousness, touches the world. One still point. It’s ineffable, it’s mysterious. That’s where wonder comes from, where art comes from. It’s all these things that made our civilization blossom.”

A music major, Slean has the experience of study from an academic angle, and sees the potential for perversion in technical over-analysis.

“I don’t think I could devote another three to four years to dissect [Beethoven’s pieces] as fetal pigs.”

She continues her study from the angles she knows best, and they’re far from limited. A painter, poet and actor as well as a musician, Slean sees the importance of recognizing art within one’s community

“I’ve never believed in nations and the identity of a nation,” she said. “We are all about communities—communities within communities. As I get older I realize how fortunate I am to be born into this community.”

Putting her music where her mouth is, Slean has devoted a full album to appreciating the work of Canadian fellows. Her compilation album of covers, Black Flowers, pays tribute to artists like Leonard Cohen and Sarah Harmer.

This celebration does not stop at Black Flowers. Slean is currently embarking solo on her Recessionista tour, which showcases other local artists as well as eco-friendly living. For each show, she will wear a dress made of recycled material to showcase the talent of environmentalist Torontonian designers.

Downsizing seems to be a relevant theme for Slean, who is also ending her 10-year relationship with major label Warner.

Though she professes to be relieved at the prospect of less time spent on promotional stunts, she doesn’t have any hard feelings.

“Everyone wants me to dish the dirt being on a big bad major music label, but they were all lovely. It’s just that system is outdated now.”

Disengaging from such a system seems like a choice that yields a promising future for Slean. Her sharp delineations, creative process and personal philosophy indicate an independent direction with potential beyond the confines of a major label.

“The next album is going to be an absolute explosion of energy.”

She plans on devoting most of the next year to its composition. She says she may have to go somewhere else to do it, anticipating chasing muses down whichever corridors they lead her.

Sarah Slean plays The Grad Club on Wednesday June 3rd. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are available online.

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