Sarah Schonert is a composer and singer from Illinois whose new album Penguin Party has a sort of celestial steampunk vibe, if that’s a thing. She combines electronic beats and synths with analog piano playing and other instruments (she plays several) with her polished, operatic voice to create something definitely unique in indie music and electro pop. Is it EDM? Schonert’s fourth album in two years definitely has some house and techno-inspired beats but its classical melodies may have some ravers questioning where to put it.
Foremost in Schonert’s style on Penguin Party is definitely the tradition of classically trained indie female vocal music started by Kate Bush and made famous by the likes of Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan and Bjork. She has a pitch-perfect voice and could have easily sung opera. Her piano skills are also polished and technically almost perfect but Schonert has chosen a different route on which to take her training and skills. The sounds and melodies she writes for her voice are, in fact, operatic by nature but they have unconventional stops, starts and syncopation. In songs like “Queen of Panels” she even indulges in some more raspy, rock-driven vocals. Her voice is ready and willing to go all over the place but her piano tends to stay steadfast in its classical sounds.
The electronic side of Penguin Party is a whole different beast. Some songs have EDM structure to them, such as “Tree With Feet” and the afore-mentioned “Queen of Panels,” but others use electronic instruments for more classical ends, such as in the title track. Still others are just completely wacky. It’s clear Schonert enjoys experimenting with different types of electronic production equipment, as she uses wave synths and even older equipment to create some of the surprising sounds in songs like “Glacier Drive” and “Get Thee to A Nunnery.” There’s simply no way some of these sounds could be created with software, and it stands to reason that Schonert would use multiple methods to create her electronic sounds. She’s a classical multi-instrumentalist; she’d used to the idea that different sounds come from different contraptions.
The overall sound of Penguin Party is tough to categorize. Vocally and compositionally, the music world may have another Kate Bush of Tori Amos on its hands, but in the incorporation of electronic elements Schonert has created a whole new category, really. Part EDM, part experimental, all very interesting, Schonert is one to watch on a number of fronts, including by EDM producers.