When the physical world is stifling, the internet beckons. It’s a sinister trap, one Sarah Morrison knows all too well. On “This Sorry Day,” the second track off the Tallahassee singer-songwriter’s subdued debut album, Attachment Figure, she soundtracks a draining day online with—what else?—smooth jazz. “While you were out I caved to my kitty instinct/Turned my computer on,” she sings with tired resignation over a dampened piano. Soon, her boredom shifts to the kinds of manic thoughts that follow spending hours viewing people through a screen: “Makes me want to laugh at me/Makes me want to look at me/Makes me want to touch me,” she chants, her whispered soprano turned dark and dissonant. But then, without warning, a velvet cyclone of a sax solo lifts the song aloft and carries it through its raging climax.
Morrison has built an eerie, beguiling world in Attachment Figure, one where Southern fields, soft embraces, and bridal statues carry an air of unease, earthly treasures partly situated in an otherworldly plane. Album opener “Via Negativa” hints at this over sparse, dissonant chords, instructing us to recognize the divine through negation. “Could I get closer by knowing what love is not?” Morrison wonders quietly, before the track resolves its choral dissonance into major chords of religious bliss. On the indie-pop graveyard romp “Gray Apples,” the blurring divide between life and death becomes clearer as she walks with a light step among the graves of strangers, bounding synths tagging her spiritual questions: “What’s there to learn from those who’ve known the end?”
Whether singing a tricky lyric in patient time or turning out fluttering melismatic phrases, Morrison’s wispy, warbling voice remains soft and bare, even in the album’s heated moments, of which there are a welcome few. Through the repetitive pounding keys on album highlight “To Kill a Buzzard,” she shudders in anger at the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, killed in 2020 in South Georgia, a few hundred miles away from her home. The song’s frenetic pace slows into a taunting country bridge: “Do you sleep better little gunner/Like with a fake dreamcatcher above your headboard?” she sneers, the ironic twang of a pedal steel echoing her disgust. On “Mango,” Morrison similarly dips into disturbed affect after receiving a hateful message wishing her childless for one thousand years. “Thanks for looking out for me,” she chirps, adding that the letter has only emboldened an act of imagined revenge, “conceiving made-up children to replace and defeat you with such sweet revelating gladness,” her quivering hush giving way to cathartic shouts and clattering, disturbed guitar licks.
I wish Morrison leaned more into her capacity to spark these dark emotions, particularly after looking at the album’s credits; her producing partners, Ross Brand and Clayton Rychlik, played with her in Christina Schneider’s quirky synth-pop project Locate S,1, which Morrison has cited as an inspiration for her jazzier song structures. Likewise, while much of the album came from her interest in horror films and their corresponding soundtracks, some songs don’t fully pull off their intended haunting effect. The elegiac title track sounds more tired than fear-invoking and lacks a sense of urgency, padded with synths that fail to take off near the song’s end.
But not every contact with the dead needs to be terrifying, and Morrison excels at threading the ethereal plane with patient curiosity. On “La Pascualita,” she sings from the perspective of a Mexican folk legend, a shop mannequin so lifelike that some believe her to be an embalmed corpse. Speaking as the 90-year-old mummified woman, she implores her onlookers to recognize that beauty has a life cycle, just as all living things do: “People say if it dies then it wasn’t beautiful in the first place/But I was, oh, it was/Oh, I was,” she murmurs, sparsely backed by a carefully treading bassline. At the song’s end, Morrison’s voice glides and bends into quiet, spectred yelps. Summoning ghosts comes easiest to her at this moment, after having made contact with a tangible reality.
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