Madaila Bends Genres on New EP “West”

Madaila returns with a fresh take on their sound, deviating from synth-pop roots and opting instead for a more subtle folk approach.

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.

Our Rating: 8.0 (Best New Music)

Review: This Isn’t Funny (LP1) by Metadiscorse

FFO: beach rock, lofi, bedroom pop, progressive rock

I’ve been called an old soul for preferring albums over singles and EPs; indeed, it is far more common to see bands releasing shorter (and more regular) works to appeal to dwindling attention spans and the saturation of dopamine that is omnipresent. That’s not to say singles or EPs are lazy, but they’re certainly more convenient from a commercial standpoint. Albums largely seem to be on their way out.

Enter Metadiscorse who have crafted a two-disk long player behemoth of a debut. The first part, This Isn’t Funny, is officially out today (along with some bonus live tracks), and the band has not cut any corners here. Six of the eleven tracks are over four minutes long, with several tracks approaching the six-minute mark. Even the conscious decision to go beyond nine or ten tracks seems significant. And while LP2 is still forthcoming, if we assume it’ll be comparable in length, this ends up being quite a hefty project.

Sonically, the band describes themselves as lofi and bedroom pop – neither of these is inaccurate, but I’d also add in terms like beach rock, grunge, and vintage psych. It’s full of moments both viscerally joyful and passionately vulnerable as frontman Hunter LoBianco croons over a variety of compositions that transport listeners from quiet docksides to restful country hamlets.

It’s hard not to draw comparisons to fellow Wisconsinite band Horace Greene, with their own unique flavor of retrospective rock. Metadiscorse has enough unique DNA in the form of more unique song structures, wide stylistic influences, and overall dynamics. However, vocal style and guitar tone are probably the biggest shared element between the two bands, and it’s hard to mentally separate the two.

“American Troglodyte” arguably serves as the flagship track on this LP and serves as a prime example of what LoBianco and friends are capable of. It’s the longest track, but none of that time is wasted. A waltz-like piano base and auxiliary percussion open the track, but the end is a whirling crescendo of full-band instrumentation. While the album has several instrumental (or at least nearly-instrumental) tracks, this build easily stands out among its compatriots.

One downside to the album format that many critics are justified about is the ability to be cohesive; personally I’m drawn to concept albums which play off motifs, lyrical themes, and elements of self-reference. Can you write a good album without these? Yes. But there’s a tendency for some albums to feel like a collection of singles more than anything else. And when a band like Metadiscorse sets out to release an album of such proportions, it’s hard for things to not feel consistent at times. The narrative inevitably suffers a bit. And genuinely, even some of the most ambitious (and greatest) albums begin to drag a bit as they surpass an hour runtime.

There are plenty of solid moments on This Isn’t Funny, but cutting a track or two could help it feel more solid as a whole. “Self Esteem” is a grungy interlude track that feels out of place on the album to begin with, but its slot as the second-to-last track seems to disrupt what would have been the one-two punch of “American Troglodyte” and “Out to Get Me”. “Problematic” and “Mid-Air Collision” are both stripped back type tracks, but even they feel too lofi for an album marketed as such. Juxtaposed against “Open Letter to Ms. Caroline”, these songs feel perhaps a bit under-developed.

But apart from these songs, there’s not too much to complain about. Sure, production could be a bit more pristine but there wasn’t a $20,000 budget here. The band has been fairly resourceful and the end result still sounds pretty crisp. The variety of explored genres is exciting, especially the mathy “Tokyo Drift (Conventionally Unattractive”. The variety may feel like a bit of a musical identity crisis at times, but there’s huge potential for the band to market specific songs to different audiences and leverage themed playlists here.

Metadiscorse is fearlessly-ambitious on this release, and they’re not afraid of the short-term commercial impact. This Isn’t Funny is ultimately a chill album that feels cozy in the quiet of your home but would nonetheless have allure live as well. It may not feel completely well-rounded, but barring a few earlier complaints, it’s definitely a strong debut album that is certain to help you slow down and appreciate beauty in the simple things in life.

Check it out here or on most digital streaming outlets.

Our Rating: 7.4 (Stand Out)

Exploring Sandy Soundscapes on Tarantula Tapes’ “Easy”

Glowbug’s Daniel Anderson is never content to stay in one place, this time emerging with an amalgamation of country, hip-hop, and lofi.

While Judah & the Lion are arguably the most mainstream example of hip-hop stylings mashed into unlikely contexts, they’ve arguably got nothing on the uncanny cocktail that is Tarantula Tapes’ debut album.

Tarantula Tapes is the latest moniker of Daniel Anderson, and Anderson himself characterizes the project as “not Glowbug” but also “not not Glowbug”. This is a fitting summary – Easy shimmers with a lofi glow and a base of vintage sounding synths, acoustic guitar, and a certain western ambiance. At times, it feels like a reimagined take on the classic chillwave sound of Glowbug, albeit one where Anderson’s vocals are substituted with intricate guitar melodies and the arrangements feel more spacious.

Admittedly, instrumental music is difficult for me to process. Even the most inane lyrics provide some degree of conversation for listeners to respond to. But without lyrics, listeners are given freedom to inject their ideas into both sides of the musical conversation.

It’s also difficult to know how to best approach instrumental works. Can they be appreciated well in the background as concentration or relaxation methods? Or should they be carefully examined with full attention? Is it a disservice to simply do one or the other?

As such, it seems unfair to try to place any sort of rating on Easy. It’s a bit like eating Indian food for the first time – it is foreign to me to some degree, and it may not go down the easiest. But that’s simply my own palate which has not been primed for this sort of release. To enjoy Tarantula Tapes properly is to not overthink things.

That’s not to say Easy isn’t carefully-crafted, lush, or compelling. But I need to temporarily suspend my notions of “meaning” and simply let these compositions cascade freely. Anderson isn’t commenting on dead-end jobs, vibrant memories of driving along the coast, or the nature of luck itself. Instead, he charts beauty is a more subjective manner – one that conjures western vistas, simple living, and an undeniable sense of wonder. Maybe the nature of quarantine holds the album back as it presents us with a sense of freedom that for many seems may never see the light of day.

Stylistically, Easy is in a league of its own. It borrows equally from Orville Peck’s cosmic country foundation and augments it with traces of classic hip-hop; hints of folk, chillwave, and Love as a Dark Hallway-era Flashbulb-esque guitar parts are all present. It’s undeniably modern, but is lovingly retrospective all the same.

Even though Tarantula Tapes is a change of pace compared to the more dynamic elements of Glowbug, the project certainly has its own unique strengths and shows Anderson’s “Renaissance man” aptitude for songwriting.

Check out Easy here: https://tarantulatapes.bandcamp.com/album/easy

Death and Rebirth With Hodera

When is a piece of art truly finished? When is it time to shift gears, call things quits, or reinvent?

These are questions that have inevitably been on the mind of Hodera’s Matthew Smith. The band itself began as Smith’s solo effort before becoming a true collaborative effort. And in a move that could be seen as overcompensation, Smith has once again found himself with a solo project, this time under the Bravely moniker.

This particular movement toward solo releases happened some point after 2017’s First Things First (and its supplemental follow up, Besides). And while reasons for the band’s informal hiatus remain shrouded in mystery (at least to me), the group decided to resurface earlier this year with another EP.

The band had this to say: We really only decided to get back together due to the constant online support. We thought our journey was done but you all pushed us to keep going!

Admittedly, it’s hard to keep tabs on which bands are active, which ones are putting out releases, which ones are on the cusp of new releases, and any of the multitude of factors connected to the music industry. It’s weird to realize how much time has past since some of my favorite albums. And when a band chooses to silently fade away, it’s even more confusing as to just what’s going on. They’ve decided they’re done, but fans don’t realize it. Needless to say, prior to reading this, I guess I missed the hint that Hodera was no more.

So, their return is certainly a welcome surprise (though their back catalog does indeed hold its own), but the bigger question surrounds why they stopped in the first place. After all, First Things First was a definite change of pace from United by Birdcalls, and while Bravely deviates stylistically, the sound is adjacent enough that it could have easily been published under the Hodera moniker – I’ve seen several bands turn to solo projects or rely on guest features but carry the same brand forward.

Certainly, there are few sure answers in this case. Maybe the whole spirit behind Bravely, the mental state where those songs originate, is vastly differently than what facilitated the Hodera songs. Maybe Hodera’s identity became a true cooperative work. Maybe everything that needed to be said was already out there. Maybe it was time, distance, money, priorities. We might never know, and it’s not imperative we do. But we do know that communal support was enough to bring the band back together for another recording.

And that seems pretty interesting – that Hodera and Bravely for once exist concurrently. It’s undeniable the new iteration of Hodera is a bit different after a few years off, but it’s not a detriment. The two projects have unique purposes enough to warrant a brand separation.

But what about bands like Thrice who have seemingly run the gamut on genre? The Alchemy Index on its own carried enough stylistic variety to surpass most bands, and that’s only a microcosm of what the band has explored. Cool Hand Luke has gone from midwest emo to alternative rock to piano-based indie and has seen several lineups, including a solo iteration. There’s something to be said about a band that, in a sense, manages to have a career that lasts a couple decades. And while that’s harder and harder in the modern world, uprooting the brand you’re most known for can seem like career suicide – or at the very least, akin to starting over. Compare the social draw of Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s to Richard Edwards’ solo work – the same artist under two different names is seeing disproportionate success.

Now, Hodera is smaller than all of the bands listed; arguably, they have the most to lose starting over. It’s hard to get the first hundred or 500 people to care, and doing it all over again is excruciating.

That’s not to say this distinction is wrong by any stretch or that Hodera is the only band that has done this sort of thing; what’s unique is that the band quietly dissolved but reappeared. Whatever defines their music, whatever unites the members… these are the core parts of Hodera as a project. It would seem other artists have fewer firm definitions for their art, allowing it to be malleable to some stretch. But others, in the case of The Felix Culpa, simply exist under the pretense that they’ve reached their magnum opus and that to carry on further would be a mistake. Some reasons naturally carry a greater degree of permanence, even if the band may later decide to do some sort of reunion after reconsidering things.

But Hodera was very much a young band with a small catalog. It’s hard not to feel that the end was untimely, much like a high school romance torn to shreds when the couple go off to separate colleges. All the band has said is that they’ve stopped playing a few years back.

But just as easily as Hodera vanished, they reappeared (perhaps with more longevity). So, much like we should consider the constraints for when a project is complete, we should too ponder when perhaps a project was sunset too soon and where there is still room to continue.

In the case of Hodera, You’re Worth It definitely feels like a chapter that was missing. It’s inviting and familiar, rife with the sort of comforting wordplay Smith’s lyrics are known for. The title, the impetus for reunion, and the band’s stance on mental health seem to point toward one major driving force for their persistence: their support base. It seems that a project once decidedly introspective has shaken its telephoto roots for a wider angle based around community – that this release, and the band’s resurgence, is for the community. It’s a sort of musical thank-you card. This alone was able to break whatever confines had been placed upon Hodera, if not expand the definition of Hodera as an entity.

Ultimately, it’s good to have Hodera back with this release. In all the questions and unknowns, the band have their reasons for their actions. Hodera’s career trajectory is one of intermittent rest and forceful rise, and the end result are songs that shimmer with struggle and endurance.

Review: EP1_2020 by New Language

RIYL: Spicy quarantine jams with timely lyrics

It’s perhaps both a great time and horrible time to release music these days. On one hand, shows aren’t happening, chaos has manifested in some pretty tangible ways, and art itself seems far less important than larger social challenges.

On the other hand, the audience is more captive than ever – and more in need of messages of truth, sensibility, and critical thought to help discern reality in a sea of fake news, personal anxieties, and general apprehensiveness.

Here, New Language‘s latest effort, the simply-titled EP1_2020, seems to ring true. The band has been working on its second LP for quite some time, and while it’s uncertain if these songs are a subset of what we’d find on the album or not, these three tracks speak well into our current pandemic – and beyond. I’m led to believe that this EP wasn’t initially planned but that our current circumstances prompted the band to put out this release. After all, New Language is not the sort of band that takes unreasonable risks and giving listeners an anchor for reality amid socio-political and personal turmoil reflects the band’s brand of community-driven efforts. This is a band known for donating album and merch sales to charities, so dropping this EP should certainly not be taken as a cheap grab for attention.

Instead, EP1_2020 makes every effort to comfort the restless and weary. New Language has continually managed to navigate socially-conscious lyrics in a way that avoids taking sides, and this is something I particularly respect. There’s a common empathy that whatever ideals we might hold, we are all in the same world trying to make it through.

On this EP, the lyrics feel more personal than ever. Lead single “NO TIME” speaks to the consumption, if not over-consumption, of media and its consequent consumption of us. That’s not to say naivete is a good goal by any stretch, but so much of what occupies our minds can become burdensome. We see this exemplified in some of the lyrics: “Losing my sight, losing my mind, no time, no time”. It’s the sort of sentiment that works best laid so bare. While there’s certainly more to behold lyrically, suffice it to say our relationships with others are strained by how we prioritize our time and what we treasure most. In a time where we’re cut off from many people we love, it’s even more critical we direct our efforts toward those who are hurting rather than cower in escapist fashion.

“PARANOID” is a particularly striking track, and its name is perhaps the most direct of the three songs on the EP. These opening lyrics set the stage for this introspective piece:

Lost control
Trying to steer clear
Why are we still here?

It comes and goes
Try to be sincere
But why are we stuck here?

These are certainly sentiments we’ve experienced before to varying degrees, but they feel even more timely. Why are we stuck here? It’s a statement that resounds on multiple levels, from potential international distress to the millions of jobs lost in a mere few weeks. It is easy to think and feel the worst in all of this when good news feels so rare, but a panicked response certainly is not healthy either. Instead, the band has this call-to-action for us:

Can’t let go, don’t wanna be so paranoid
Can’t let go, don’t wanna be so paranoid

Take away, take away fixed patterns
Break away, break away right now
Overthrow
Don’t need to be so paranoid

There’s a recognition of the unhealthy thought cycle and a desire to do something about it rather than be passively overtaken by fear. We tend to forget how even small changes in thought can have a huge effect when applied on a mass scale.

The EP ends on “CAN’T EXPLAIN”, a track accompanied by a video of LA during the quarantine which the band has created for their community. Lyrically, it feels like the most resilient track so far: even when confusion abounds, we will carry on for the people and things we love. The song’s title seems to have two sides to it – not being able to explain the current difficulties and also not being able to explain the hope and desire to push forward in a time where it’d be easier to sit things out.

Musically, the band has continued down their experimental tangent we first saw with “House of Cards”. Synths are more prominent this time around (and a central part of “NO TIME”). Things feel a bit poppier overall, though not to any sort of detriment. These are certainly the most palatable songs the group has released to date, with the band taking a more minimalist approach to songwriting so that every second truly counts – and there is certainly no time to waste here, no pun intended. While the group’s first LP was grounded in solid hard rock and post-hardcore and the EP played a bit more off alt-rock influences, this EP shows a new direction altogether. Certainly, New Language is still a rock band – but subgenre labels feel less apt to describe the core of what this band is crafting. At the end of the day, EP1_2020 is a fresh set of timely tracks that glimmer with perseverance and fortitude in an uncertain age, and that’s worth plenty all on its own.

Our Rating: 8.2 (Best New Music)

Song Premier: Cloud Caverns’ “The Eleventh Hour Effort”

“We were always waiting for the shoe to drop,
Here it is.”

Chattanooga’s Cloud Caverns has been crafting intimate, progressive folk for the better part of a decade now. Manned by Brandon Peterson, with intermittent friends lending assistance, the project has three full-length albums under its belt. More recently, Cloud Caverns has been releasing singles in anticipation of a new new full-length album.

Never shy to the discomforts of political corruption, disillusionment, and the the simple (yet unrelenting) pains of life, Peterson pens visceral songs that are poetic without being esoteric: they’re songs that frame the common threads of life in a way that manage to make something beautiful out of a reality that is often harsh.

We’re excited to debut Cloud Caverns’ latest single, “The Eleventh Hour Effort”. It’s a particularly timely song given the current health crisis. While the song’s lyrics speak of a house literally collapsing, it’s a state that many of us are experiencing emotionally. We are inside the house, it is sinking, and we’re not sure what to do. But the song is not prescriptive, instead slyly remarking, “That’s just life, is that right?”

All of this is juxtaposed against an otherwise upbeat sonic landscape, with prominent use of flute-like synth tones. It’d be easy to lose the serious undertones of the lyrics with a casual listen. It feels warm and playful, a nice change of pace for a project known to oscillate between intense alt-rock and spacious acoustic arrangements.

Check out “The Eleventh Hour Effort” below:

The Eleventh Hour Effort by Cloud Caverns

Review: The Better Way Home by Stalgic

FFO: Pianos Become the Teeth, The Receiving End of Sirens, Tiny Moving Parts, The Republic of Wolves, Sorority Noise

Green Bay-based Stalgic may have been around for only a few years now, but they’ve certainly been a staple in the scene, playing alongside fellow emo/post-hardcore act Bottom of the Lake, regular frequenting Jambalaya, and releasing EPs and splits in various shapes. Needless to say, they’ve keep an indomitable pace and assimilated well into the larger scene for alternative and emo. They’ve managed to outgrow a local audience and even get national, and international, attention via playlists like Dreambound.

While Stalgic has been known for their high-energy shows and somber lyrics, they’ve typically been on the “lighter” side of punk-adjacent genres. Not so on The Better Way Home, a release that feels appropriately encapsulated in the description of melodic hardcore. The classic chunky basslines and spiraling The Receiving End of Sirens-esque guitar lines are back in full force, but there are pockets of screaming and spoken word that add some more depth to Stalgic’s sound.

Tom Zwicker’s voice is eerily familiar to that of The Republic of Wolves’ Mason Maggio, though certainly of a deeper timbre. This isn’t to detriment whatsoever; in a genre that thrives off good cop-bad cop vocals of high tenors and the low growls of chain smokers, this down-to-earth baritone tone is refreshing and sits well in the overall mix. It feels genuine and earnestly carries the lyrical content across.

Kristian Pearson and Brent Harkonen are in full force, interweaving dual guitar parts with the utmost intricacy. Stalgic thrives on melodic integrity, and that’s certainly in no short supply on this release. Of course, there’s a bit of dropped-tuning chugs as well. Imagine 2006-era post-hardcore and you’ll get the idea. It’s a sound that is somewhat retired at this point but isn’t quite ready to hang up the hat.

Cooper Miller’s drumming is non-intrusive, providing a solid glue for the rest of the band. It’d appropriately dynamic, with plenty of tight tom work throughout the album.

The Better Way Home is undeniably a brief release – its nine tracks sit shy of half an hour, with two interlude-type tracks sprinkled in. Even so, there’s a lot packed into each of these tracks. Fans of Pianos Become the Teeth and So Soon, The Truth will immediately feel at home, those this is just a particular subset of would-be comparisons. Case and point, it’s fast, emotive, perhaps even dizzying.

The band is unfortunately challenged by an oversaturated genre that has stagnated somewhat for almost two decades. It’s evident they’re trying to break the mold, especially with some of the heavier portions or mathier types riffs. However, it’s a task that feels so insurmountable – it’s hard not to feel like Sorority Noise, The Hotelier, and similar acts have already marked their initials over this sonic space to some degree. And even if a band manages to expand on this sound in one way or another, it’s bound to feel derivative to some degree.

Even so, they make good use of their resources. Again, Tom Zwicker’s voice is a key defining element. The guitars, at their most melodic points, are beyond impressive. The stripped-down “Where I Stand” is a nice change of pace, even if it’s a bit more forgettable than some of its counterparts. Overlaying vocal parts and harmonies here and there are a nice touch. For the most part, Stalgic makes strong use of dynamic elements.

The Better Way Home shows a pretty neat advancement in Stalgic’s sound and the fact they’ve managed to garner a larger audience is admirable. This is a not release without some of the clichés of emo and adjacent forms of punk, and things do feel a bit too homogenous at times – but the discerning ear will appreciate some of the intricate details that set Stalgic apart from their peers. This band is still young and they’re progressing as they shape their sound. Only time will tell what they’ll do next.

Our Rating: 6.8 (Solid)

Learn more about our rating system here.

The Better Way Home by Stalgic