Out of nowhere, like a flash! After five years of radio silence, Athens’ own New Madrid apparate once more, wielding a fresh set of 10 meticulously crafted songs to swoon over. The new self-titled album, out Apr. 30 via Lemonade Records, was recorded locally at Chase Park Transduction sporadically between 2017-2019.
Birthed by the notion of recording a couple of songs for experimentation with the album’s eventual producer/engineer, Drew Vandenberg (Futurebirds, Bambara), New Madrid marks an amicable end to a long-running partnership with hometown hero David Barbe (Deerhunter, Drive-By Truckers), who acted as producer, engineer and mentor through the band’s first three records.
“We wanted to test the vibe out to see if it would work,” says bassist and multi-instrumentalist Ben Hackett, who as a Chase Park engineer also served as “acting interpreter between the band and Vandenberg” during the S/T sessions. “We had repeated the fast-paced recording process similarly for so long that a natural itch to take time and experiment more this go-around had developed,” Hackett continues. Such intuitive scratching led to a nearly-three-year-long process of transformative reconfiguration and rebranding due in part to the focused “refinement of the instrumentation and expansion of tones we were playing with on [2016’s] magnetkingmagnetqueen,” according to vocalist and guitarist Phil McGill. This process resulted in a sound “closest to what the band has always sounded like in our heads.”
The result: an Empyrean mind-melting ride through the outermost reaches of the celestial spheres. Symbiotic in expression, philosophically fueled prose propelled by transmorphic compositions vivaciously impel our protagonist’s storied sentiments that much farther into the abyss. The finely textured stereo-panned guitars of McGill and Graham Powers serve as orchestrated oars from either side of the voluminous vessel, speaking one another’s tonal language in unison with such effortlessness and mimicry that discerning who is playing what and when is a fleeting fling. Conjoined with Hackett’s versatile guitar-like bass riffing and Alex Woolley’s steel horse drumming—and occasionally joined by the searing sounds of saxophonist Ethan Evans—the experimental post-punk alt-country quartet (sometimes quintet) churns raw feelings incurred in a post-haze malaise of existential suffering into spiritual transmutations for all. Worth their weight in gold, each song builds a ponderously palpating experience that leaves the listener wanting in the wake.
The attention to detail melded into the songs is omnipresent, especially on the electrically charged “Are You The Wind,“ which exalts the preponderance of self-preservation in an increasingly acidic environment while coming to terms with coexistence amongst all expressions of self, narcissistic vampires et al.—offering words of wisdom along the way, like “Hold it in your hands/ Leave it locked away/ Seek it in your plans/ Hope they hold.” Album-opening door-kicker “I Want It” immediately pummels listeners with allusions to an awareness that the throwaway, built-to-fail business models (and their plastic mountains of karmic debt) have begun to rain down from the heavens above, smothering an already overly saturated society with an avalanche of cheap hollowed-out relics from a faux reality and leaving its people below hysterically repeating, “I want it but I don’t need it/ I need it but I don’t want it at all.” A true 21st-century conundrum.
With the advent of social media nearly two decades ago, shouldn’t a deeper sense of empathy and awareness for our fellow beings be openly exhibited? Shouldn’t it be OK to cry? New Madrid queries whether or not on the album’s lead single, “It’s OK (2 Cry).” In an increasingly antisocial world, one which shuns tear shedding and honesty, one is preyed upon by the swarms of mindless factoid-coddling factualists, misguided malnourished soul-seekers and crystallized culturists occupying “Queen for a Day”—seemingly spoiled to the point of stifle by excess access to excess, backed by blindfolded self-assurance, convinced that the best way to acquire wisdom is by surfing the web. All the while, the airy “Everything” cascades collected daydreams down waterfalls—cleansing the soil-stained cultural curtains often obscuring reality and revealing effervescent light in a levitating cup that runneth over—and is roused by the kind of love found just far enough on the outskirts of the other side of loss and regret.
“Do you only ask the questions for the answers?” our protagonist ironically inquires. By asking questions, does one simultaneously bury truth further beneath wonderment? Is it better to know, to know not, or not to know to ask the question? All may or may not be revealed within “Q&A,” one of several subtly infectious offerings on the album. It’s a slow-burning, steady march into the heart of the obsessive hunger for truth, no matter the cost, and the folly of outsourcing eternal questions before seeking internal answers—which might only be found if each heavy-handed cast is lifted back stone by stone.
A homage to the fugacious, “I Tried to Wait” explores the ever-fleeting sense of permanence that rules all animate beings. Some things fall apart, and quickly. “The vision vaporized/ Ephemeral as smoke.” Droning guitars, fuzz-chunked bass and Zeus-like batterie dole out the emotive quandary of being prosecuted and persecuted by a former friend or lover for ill-read intentions—a lament over how quickly dreams, ambition, hope or life can fall away faster than smoke rings dissipating into a weightless atmosphere. This atmosphere permeates the swirling melancholy of “Letters of Fire” almost as briefly as the acoustic float-by encounter of an old friend on the skeletal ”Hello My Friend.” Album closer and near-future fan favorite “Like a Flash,” the only track on the record produced by Barbe, is an immediately obvious child of the New Madrid catalog, with the members’ amalgamated musical powers on full display—and at the center of it all, a squeaky kick pedal imploring us onward!
Located at the juxtaposed crossroads of creature and culture, New Madrid magnificently captures the grievances of molded humans in modern times whilst sparing digressive details, in hopes that wisdom shall prevail over piling socio-cultural compressions caused by the impacts of increasingly infinitesimal information access.
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