Sasha and The Indulgents – Love in a Box (2010)

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by Nick DeRiso

Sasha and the Indulgents’ Love in a Box is shot through with a devastating sense of foreboding, from the crafty creep-rock of its opening title track almost all the way through to its desolate final moments of lonesome acceptance. Yet, and this is the power and magic of the record, they never bog down musically. Instead, this New York-based group finds a series of interesting contexts to surround their dark ruminations.

Sasha Papernik is a conservatory-trained child prodigy, and Love in a Box starts that way, with an elliptical run across the electric piano. As with many of the songs to come, that spookily beautiful portent doesn’t last long.

Sasha and Co. quickly move into a galloping rhythm, with co-producer Justin Poindexter adding some ghoulishly inventive organ work, and the title track becomes this thundering meditation on trying to get over a lingering heart ache. “What do I have to do to erase the memory of you,” Sasha sings, then goes even further: “And of that day?”

“Edges of Your Mind,” a sweeping ballad pushed along by jazz-inspired work on the drums from Ryan Ramirez, travels even further into the empty restless nights of the lovelorn. “Are you looking at the night sky?,” Papernik sings, while strings arranged by Poindexter and these sturdy cello flourishes from Amali Premawardhana, almost like church music, swell behind her. “Do you see the same moon I do?,” she continues, still reaching out and finding nothing. Finally, as Ramirez and Papernik emerge together from the din, a sense of hopefulness returns: “You will see her again; she will show you again.”

There are other times when the clouds seem to part. “Impossible,” stark and spare then almost psychedelically complex thanks to a return on the cello by Premawardhana, makes the case for optimism amidst so many unanswerable questions. The more conventional piano-ballad “Chasing Hours,” with another sensitive turn by Ramirez, finds redemptive strength in a lyrically trenchant guitar solo by Poindexter. More often, however, Sasha and the Indulgents are sorting through deeper, sometimes almost formless worries.

A girl pushes past the lowered expectations of those around her on “Carolina,” as Poindexter’s echoing guitar work intertwines with Papernik’s innocently ruminative runs on the Rhodes: “Her mother says, ‘Darling, ambition won’t get you married.’ Her father says, ‘Child, idealism is an empty pocket.’” But she doesn’t let go of her dream, unsaid in the song but unshakeable, despite being beset on all sides by naysayers.

Papernik struggles to decipher the true meaning behind furtively discovered old romantic musings in “I Read the Letter,” as Rohin Khemani adds an insistent turn on the tabla. She is suspended somewhere between curiosity and a still-burning animosity over a relationship’s more recent failings. “For a moment, I see the way you used to look at me; and I like the comfort that brings,” Papernik sings, before coming back into the moment. Old feelings can’t paper over new hurt.

“Would You Like Me,” an inspiring rumination on codependency, whips around with an appropriate emotional violence, moving between a tense stomping rhythm and this almost pastoral reverie. “I am what you want to see,” Papernik sings. Then, afraid of getting lost in reflection, she begins to question her own machinations. Which role is the real one? “It’s hard to pretend to approve of yourself when you’re seeking approval,” she adds. She finally finds the strength to look in the mirror and see the real person staring back.

Later, Papernik grieves for “two hearts that never beat in time” on the closing “Ten Thousand Dreams,” which features a second string arrangement by Poindexter and this haunting turn at the violin by Sarah Zun. “If the daybreak never came, would I be lying here the same?” she sings, in a dejected whisper, “Forever haunted by your name.” The character can’t seem to make any other choice, as Poindexter’s guitar makes wistfully clear.

“Maybe I will,” Papernik sings, and it sounds like a complete defeat. It’s another melancholic epiphany, another hard-won truth, in a brave recording filled with them.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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