Madaila has been a favorite of mine for several years now. “What If” won my heart, and tracks like “Give Me All Your Love”, “I Know”, and “I Don’t Want to Rest” really sealed things for me. Last year’s Clandestine Magic was a long-awaited return to form for the band after a bit of a hiatus (during which frontman Mark Daly released an ambitious solo LP).
Now, Madaila is back. Sort of. West is the first of four Madaila EPs slated for this year, and it’s quite a bit different that the 80s-styled pop they’ve been known for. Instead, there’s a lot more folk influence at play. The songs are more raw, rural, and perhaps even grittier.
None of this is left field for Daly who previously fronted the short-lived Chamberlin, a dynamic folk act with a sadly-shallow discography. However, the new Madaila is hardly just a Chamberlin reissue. It feels like a rejuvenation of the group’s classic sound, ditching some of the funner, dancier elements for a more humble, mature tone. Daly’s piercing falsetto is still at play, but in many ways, this feels like an entirely new band. Perhaps each EP will explore a different musical style – nonetheless, West is decidedly soulful and vulnerable, treading the careful line between bombastic indie and tender alt-country. Previous releases had apparent charisma, begging to be heard. This time around, the gloss is gone as Madaila doesn’t need to ask for attention. Like an old friend, the group beckons in listeners who will immediately feel comfortable and at home.
All this said, while it may not immediately feel like a Madaila release, it’s certainly good. “One Thing Can’t Be Everything” opens the release, with Migrant-era The Dear Hunter vibes and bright tones.”Sweet Revival” is booming and emotional. “Young Again” feels the closest to the Madaila back catalog. “Love In Ohio” is painfully lamentful. “You Won’t Be Alone” is a warm closer to the collection.
Lyrically, there are traces of things we’ve seen from Madaila before, albeit recontextualized. Love is a key theme, but it’s explored in a more poetic manner. Elsewhere, lines like “I’m not doing so well” feel undeniably easy to relate to. Daly isn’t claiming to have all the answers or the strength to weather any storm that may come to pass, and it’s this uncertainty and vulnerability that feels juxtaposed against songs like “I Know”. And while the latter is strong in its own right, there’s something about this new method of delivery that seems so powerful.
West is far from what you’d expect from Madaila, but it seems like a thoughtful and honest release through and through. Mark Daly hasn’t forgotten his roots in folk and it’s fresh to see both instrumental and lyrical elements of that style flourish here. I’m certainly excited to see what’s next.