Sarah Morrison’s Musical Alchemy: Crafting Eerie Beauty in “Attachment Figure”
Unveil the hauntingly beautiful world of Pensacola native and Tallahassee songstress Sarah Morrison's debut album.
There’s a lot shimmering in Sarah Morrison’s music. The Tallahassee-based singer-songwriter articulates a literary sensibility draped in a shifting palette of harmonic textures and jazz-inflected flourishes. On her debut album, “Attachment Figure” (Ramp Local), her introspective songs are given shape and shade by a gossamer alto voice and moody keyboards.
Playing to a full house in a recent homecoming concert at the Capital City’s 926 Bar, Morrison wrapped a national tour as her small band leaned into arrangements that evoke everything from late ‘60s Los Angeles folk tunes to progressive rock, drawing listeners to lyrics full of detail and vulnerability.
“Name one bad mango flavored thing/I think, vitamins, tobacco/and the sticky fingers of children’s hands,” she sings at the start of “Mango,” accompanied only by spare piano and bass, before the song billows into a kind of orchestral pop. Whether she’s confronting loneliness and disconnection (“This Sorry Day”) or the transient nature of existence (“Gray Apples”), Morrison expresses herself in keen observations that resonate with the poetry of the everyday.
I was using a physical object as a jumping off point for a statement about beauty and death and being used, being a woman
The indie music journal Pitchfork offered praise for her album: “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.”
The polished sound came together in bits and pieces as Morrison collaborated with a community of musical cohorts around the country. “It was very DIY,” she explained. “We didn't really have a choice because it was in the middle of COVID times.” The process gave Morrison space to expand beyond the casual vibes of her previous homemade recordings, which utilized instruments like ukuleles and plinked wine glasses as percussion, evoking the singer’s love of “freak folk” artists like the harpist and singer Joanna Newsom, and the junkyard rhythms of the band Tune-Yards.
“Getting the perfect sound is kind of a new experience,” Morrison said, “like a new desire of mine.”
A Pensacola native, Morrison was raised in a music-loving family of non-musicians. She later became aware that her father’s second cousin was Jim Morrison, the legendary singer of 1960s band The Doors who attended Florida State University–as did Sarah. Her time in FSU’s creative writing program, which nurtured such acclaimed figures as Oscar-laden filmmaker Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Adam Johnson (“The Orphan Master’s Son”), proved invaluable to her artistic development. “Being around people who were writing with intention was extremely inspiring,” said Morrison, whose classes with poets David Kirby and Barbara Hamby she recalled as the most influential. “I was able to see other people incorporate it into their lives in a way that I wanted to.”
Even as a student, Morrison made a big impression. “She was writing about a young woman who started dating a Christian guy,” recalled Hamby, who taught Morrison in a fiction workshop. “When he took her to the North Georgia mountains to meet his family, right away she realized there was something weird going on. All the other students in the class were mesmerized. They didn't care about workshopping their own stories, which never happens. They just wanted to find out what was going on in the hillbilly gothic cabin with lots and lots of fat children. Let's just say that the ending slayed, and yes, there was cannibalism involved.”
Morrison finds inspiration in unexpected places. One of her most ambitious songs is “La Pascualita,” the name of a storefront mannequin in Chihuahua, Mexico, that has been on display for more than 90 years. Its lifelike appearance is so compelling it is rumored to be the actual embalmed corpse of a woman who died on her wedding day.
“In life, no one ignored her,” Morrison sings. “Now in death no one ever will.”
The songwriter turns a Mexican legend into a meditation on the female state of being.
“I was using a physical object as a jumping off point for a statement about beauty and death and being used, being a woman,” she said. “There was like, a lot going on that I needed to write out. That one felt very much like a curvy poem to me.”