"In and out of focus/ It all looks the same," goes the first lyrical couplet of "All Around the Locust," the opening track on New Madrid's sophomore LP and first for Normaltown Records. The line could be (but likely is not) a reference to Yardboat, New Madrid's debut LP, which emerged in summer 2012. Though the obviously talented young band showed signs of promise, the album was a largely by-the-numbers take on what's so vaguely dubbed "Americana."
Enter the muggy, revealing Sunswimmer. The bits of character that speckled Yardboat have been fully fleshed out; with the help of producer and mentor David Barbe, New Madrid has come into its own. From the raucous guitar fuckery of single "Manners" to the catchy, chunky harmonies of standout "Forest Gum," the record should solidify New Madrid as a true creative force, not only on the local scene but beyond.
Sunswimmer is far from perfect. There's a hint of sameness, and the decision to close a record of four- and five-minute pop tunes with back-to-back 10-minute-plus songs ("Homesick," "And She Smiles") is ill-advised. Still, it's the most noteworthy local album in quite a while, thanks to its ecstatic departure from what came before it. R.E.M., the Truckers and Elephant 6 were—and are—indelible Athens institutions. But if New Madrid is, as has been predicted, the "next big thing" to come out of the Classic City, we can rest easy knowing it will represent our modern self quite well. 4 out of 5.