All tracks written by Billy Coté except track 3 by Billy Coté and Laura Cannell, and track 8 by Mary Lorson.
released August 4, 2023
Tangerine – This song is for someone who has finally been released, floating away, free of all pain and worry and strife…look through any window. Apologies to Led Zep and also Buffalo Tom, but the title just seemed to work for this one. We put Mary’s amorphous and increasingly abstract background vocal melodies to the fore (this record is full of her ghost vocals).
Mystery Date – A narcissist sailor comes to town and sells Iris’ clothes out on the street, among other things. A tribute to Berlin in the lyrics. Matt plays the lead guitar at the end, as well as joining me on feedback. This song was started in 1999 shortly before Madder Rose went on hiatus, and Chris remembers playing it at the Mercury Lounge. No recording existed. Mary said she’d like to do it, so I found the lyrics in an old notebook and added the quiet middle section. At times, Chris’ bass part sounds like Grand Funk Railroad, an early favorite of mine, but probably no one else’s (though I imagine Rick had some of their albums, being raised in the midwest). In their time, Grand Funk sold out Shea Stadium while rarely wearing shirts, but were forever scorned by critics. I just took off my shirt.
What Do You Know About My Lover? - Searching for signs, lying to one’s self, jonesing for their love – oh dear. We already know what the inevitable conclusion will be, but sometimes you must give heartache its due. Drama can be its own reward, I guess, so let’s get nuts! Chris’ bass moves the song along in a nice manner - his playing is almost impatient, much like Chris himself. This song features the use of Laura Cannell’s piece, Until I End My Song, from her beautiful and haunting record, The Earth With Her Crowns. We thank Laura for letting us use this (it’s the violin part throughout the song)!
Lou Mystery – The original four Madder Roses, and a quintessential old-school Madder Rose song. A duet between Mary and Matt. Mary and I went down to Matt and Rocio’s studio, NY Hed, and recorded the vocals with him. We also recorded some random feedback with a Magnatone amp and Matt’s rockabilly guitar, which gave me the idea to make the song evolve into a distortion cloud. An appropriately loose drum feel by Rick (my favorite drummer). This may be my all-time favorite Madder Rose track. The lyric is a walk around downtown Manhattan, circa the 90’s. In a city of such close quarters, good fortune daily rubs shoulders with despair. Methadone can be procured on the same block as designer handbags, but at some point everybody must get in line. When I told my son Roman that we were working on a song called Lou Mystery, he said, “Oh, like Lou Mr. Reed.”
Bird (Splinters) – Bird of sorrow, bird of envy - sometimes it’s best not to look up. This is one of two songs on this album that features keyboards. Everything else is guitar. Throughout the album I used layers of guitar feedback to create keyboard-like pads. Also a volume pedal. Shit was noisy in my house for a while. The last minute of Bird is what I consider to be a “guitar symphony” - also known as a bunch of guitars playing at the same time. This song was inspired by Spacemen 3 and the first couple of Spiritualized albums. I once approached Jason Spaceman at a festival hospitality tent, and told him how much I loved his records. His response was “low-key.”
City Rain – A somewhat romantic song, even as love lies dying in the rain. In a more realistic version, there are no cabs, and you mostly end up with wet shoes. This song begs the question, “Should we try one more time?” In my experience, the answer is always no.
My Love for You is Out of Control – I got this title from an old James Gang record I had when I was little. I can’t imagine how I ended up with such a record when I was seven. Even then I could tell that it was only okay. I always interpreted the title as someone driven mad by love. I now understand that love doesn’t drive you mad - it’s the surrounding jealousy and insecurity and competition and resentment that does it. Here’s to walking away!
MLMR - Mary’s song: see below.
If I Drift Away - It’s been quite a day, if only in my head.
I Want a New Me (girlghostboyghost) - I was surprised to find this song on my phone, among the many musical voice memos that end up there. It probably should have been listed under “vodka memos.” We did it quickly, with Rick on a stand-up kit. It sounded like a nice way to end this album - slightly more lighthearted than our usual gloomy bullshit. Perhaps this is the protagonist from the previous nine songs, still searching for that magic. And why the fuck not?
Rick found the LP’s cover photograph. It is called, “West Side Highway abandoned with burned out Camaro, 1975“ taken by Andy Blair. Rick thinks he may have even seen that Camaro when he moved to New York in the 1980’s. The vehicle now resides in the NYC Memorial Crack Museum, located somewhere in the parking lot of the former Yankee Stadium.
I didn’t feel much music during the pandemic. I learned some simple tunes to play at the nursing home where my mother spent her last months, and that was about all the music I could muster, other than going over to Billy’s to sing these songs on Sunday mornings. That’s how Billy spent the pandemic: he wrote and produced these beautiful songs. For that I am grateful! Regarding MLMR, Billy liked the fragility of my demo of it, and encouraged me to finish it, but when it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to, we went into improvising mode to deliver this moodpiece. I’m glad we all “came together” to make this album. Singing with Matt Verta-Ray in person was a special treat!
Sending love and peace to Madder Rose and friends.
We sincerely hope you enjoy this album - it’s a succinct 36 minutes. I don’t think we put in any extra notes, though we did use all of them.
Billy Coté: Guitars, Atmosphere, Production
Chris Giammalvo: bass
Rick Kubic: drums
Mary Lorson: vocals, vibraphone
Matt Verta-Ray: vocals on Lou Mystery, lead guitar and feedback on Mystery Date
Adam Dausch, Drum engineering @BOOMCHAKA Studios
Holly Dausch - Tambourine & bits on track 8
Jason Shegogue - Acoustic guitar, track 5
Matt Saccuccimorano - Mixing with Billy
Fraser McGowan - Mastering
Andrew Wild - Design
Cover photograph by Andy Blair
Roman Coté - photographs of BC and ML
Billy Coté and Mary Lorson share their thoughts on the second Madder Rose reunion LP, collaborative longevity and more
Having originally separated without fanfare and/or acrimony after a healthy run of four albums and multiple singles/EPs between 1992 and 1999, it’s perhaps entirely fitting that the NYC-birthed Madder Rose have reappeared almost by stealth over the last few years.
Eschewing the more customary nostalgia-sating ‘live first’ route, the geographically-dispersed ensemble have avoided reunion clichés and delivered some of their finest material to date, across two discretely released studio albums for the small UK-based Trome Records.
Both 2019’s sumptuously sculpted To Be Beautiful and this year’s looser but no less lovely No One Gets Hurt Ever capture all five members from the roll call of the group’s original run reconvened in varying combinations and locations – namely Mary Lorson (vocals/guitar/songwriting), Billy Coté (guitar/keyboards/production/songwriting), Matt Verta-Ray (bass/guitar/vocals), Chris Giammalvo (bass) and Rick Kubic (drums/percussion). Each collection comfortably connects with the skilled songcraft of Madder Rose’s formative melodic art rock visions whilst expertly exploring newer kaleidoscopic vistas.
Certainly, none of this artistically successful reunification work would have been possible without Lorson and Coté, who have continually collaborated on solo, duo and other group projects during the two in-between decades and on an ongoing basis. Tracked down via email, they collectively and generously shared a detailed insight into the conception of the sublime newly-released No One Gets Hurt Ever, creative chemistry and plenty of related matters.
Is the release of No One Gets Hurt Ever, your second post-reunion record, confirmation that Madder Rose are ‘back for good’… or at least back for whenever enough songs come together as finished articles in the studio?
Billy: I think everyone is into doing it, but I can only guess what we’ll do next. I do have an idea for a single, but let’s get this record out first. If we record more, my hope would be that we meet in NYC and record at NY Hed, Matt [Verta-Ray]’s studio. It would be cool to play together in the same room, even if only for a few days!
I take it then that this new album, like its predecessor, was still largely constructed from a mixture of in-person and remote recordings, all stitched together in the hub of your home studio?
Billy: Yes, but we tried a few different things, as well. First, I would go to Mary’s house and we would play the song on acoustics so she could get familiar with the melody and choose a key. Then I’d send Rick a track with some guitar, vocals and a click track, and he’d record drums. He’d send that back to me and I’d redo or rethink guitars and atmosphere based on what he played, and then I’d send that to Chris for his bass parts. He seemed to play more melodically, maybe because the drums were already set. Then Mary might re-sing or add parts. She always does vocals at my studio, so we can discuss parts as we go. She mainly comes up with her own stylistic approach, though. All this took longer, but made it feel more collaborative.
Unlike other groups who also had a heyday of greater commercial and music press interest in the early-90s that have reformed of late, the Madder Rose reunification has primarily been new recordings-led first, rather than about live reunions. Has that been a more comfortable way of doing things, for where you are all at in your lives and in geographical locations?
Billy: Yes, it’s mainly a studio thing at this point, although before the pandemic started, we had agreed to play at a festival in the Northeast, and probably would have done some other gigs. If the right opportunity presents itself, we might be roused into action.
I understand that Mary’s criteria for reforming Madder Rose, was that all five previous members had to be involved in some way…
Billy: I don’t remember that it was Mary’s idea specifically, but we agreed the other members should be involved, or we couldn’t call it Madder Rose. I remember the first time her and I listened to one of the new songs with Rick’s drum tracks added, and she said, “Oh, it sounds like us now.” And it’s true, Rick is a key part of how we sound, as was Matt, and then Chris. One time we had to play a few shows with a replacement drummer, and it was like, NO.
How did the assembly process for No One Gets Hurt Ever carry on as well as diverge from its predecessor, To Be Beautiful?
Billy: The process was similar, though I put more thought into making this a guitar record by Madder Rose, as Rick had suggested we do. To Be Beautiful had songs I had already started elsewhere – same with some of Mary’s. For this record I tried to return to the mindset of the Panic On era, and how we produced and arranged the songs. For example, “City Rain” could just have easily been a gently strummed acoustic song, but we chose to go with the full-band guitar aesthetic. Also, please note the three tracks of feedback that play throughout that song.
Overall, it appears to be a looser and more relaxed affair than possibly any previous Madder Rose release, which seems reflected in the ironic and somewhat self-deprecating choice of title. Would you share that view, and if so, how would you explain it?
Billy: Yes, I think returning to a ‘guitar band’ vibe made the songs breathe a little more – plus it’s just how it came out. Having original member Matt Verta-Ray on a couple tracks probably added to that, as he and I have a similar aesthetic, although it’s been known to diverge! Plus, hanging out with him at his studio is always such fun.
As a long-time follower of your work, if I were to place the album in terms of overall feel and mood alongside other parts of in your canon, I’d put it next to both the less noisy non-album tracks of your fledgling years and the languid slower-tempo passages of Panic On, but still adjacent to the more mature dexterity of To Be Beautiful. Where do you think it fits?
Billy: I would point out that this recording is more chaotic and probably noisier than To Be Beautiful. But yes, the Panic On era was a touchstone. Songs like “City Rain” and “If I Drift Away” feel like they could have been on side two of that one. The Love You Save EP is also a relevant comparison. I recently listened to our first LP, Bring it Down, and it links to this LP through the presence of guitar feedback as atmosphere. I was surprised by what a lovely mess Bring it Down was. Nice, weird energy on that. Our 21-year-old son Roman seems to like that record, which is a huge compliment. He has discerning taste, probably from listening to New Order in the car when he was eight.
“Tangerine” is quite a curveball as an opener, being largely propelled by the bassline from Chris and some almost-jazzy drums from Rick, with guitars more used for texture. Were you perhaps under the influence of Yo La Tengo between say Painful and I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One or even Tortoise’s first couple of long-players, during its construction?
Billy: That’s interesting – I think of that song as low-key psychedelic. I think of the whole LP that way, actually. Not like The Brian Jonestown Massacre, but true to the actual definition of the word. I don’t hear Tortoise – but Yo La Tengo are a constant source of inspiration to me, and probably Mary. They haven’t put out a bad record yet, and so many of them are truly great. They are unsurpassed in finding a nice or jarring setting for a song and doing it simply.
With its twinning guitars and feedback from Billy and Matt, “Mystery Date” seems to make the closest direct sonic connection to Bring it Down. Would you agree?
Billy: Absolutely! I started that song sometime back in the 90s. Mary remembered it and expressed interest in doing it. I rewrote the lyrics a bit and added to trippy quiet part. Chris remembers playing a version of it live, shortly before we went on ‘hiatus’. Matt’s lead guitar at the end is tremendous.
Is “City Rain” a sequel of sorts to “City Lights” from To Be Beautiful?
Billy: No, “City Lights” is about my friend Don Greene who passed away in 2010. He was a lovely guy – also pure chaos. We hung out quite a bit when he was alive. The first section of “Lou Mystery” is about him, “Don broke his arm on 12th Street…” You may remember that there was a song on our ill-fated album, Tragic Magic named after him. He was still reasonably alive at that point.
“City Rain” uses New York as the setting for a doomed relationship, which is in keeping with the theme of the LP. It asks the musical question, “should we try one more time?” In our opinion, the answer is always “no”.
“What Do You Know About My Lover?” is partly-built around a violin line taken straight from Laura Cannell’s “Until I End My Song”. How did you stumble on that source piece in the first place and how did it all come together with your own writing and arranging?
Billy: I was looking for something to create unrest in the song that wasn’t a guitar. I was listening to Laura’s album, The Earth with Her Crowns and noticed the last song was kind of in the same key as ours. By the end of her track, “Until I End My Song” she’s really pushing with her violin, so I put it against “…Lover” and it was sort of magical. We sent her the track and she was super cool about us using it. Apparently, she had seen us play when she was a teenager. Her compositions and improvisations are fabulous – recommended!
Centred around Billy’s slide guitar, Mary and Matt’s duetting vocals, and very Lou Reed-like observational lyrics, “Lou Mystery” is arguably a quintessential redistillation of the New York City-dwelling essence of early Madder Rose. Is that something you would concur with? And would it be fair to say that although you both personally left the city quite some time ago, it’s never left you as creators?
Billy: I think you take part of the city with you when you leave it, because it is such an intense and all-consuming experience to live there. Plus, Verta-Ray still lives there, and Chris grew up in Brooklyn, so our roots are clear.
I was thinking of a particular area on 2nd Avenue below 14th Street and what it was like to walk around there in the 90s. So much privilege and poverty, basically side-by-side. I was thinking about people who congregate on the street, waiting to get into a church or a methadone clinic or a meeting, and what their conversations might be.
Was choosing the quite bleak cover photo of New York from 1975 for the front cover, also part of remotely reaffirming your association with the city?
Billy: Perhaps. Rick likes old New York, and he found the cover photo. I originally wanted to call the record, My Love for You is Out of Control, and I thought the photo matched it perfectly. Rick didn’t like that title, so we changed it to what it is now. It used to be a safety slogan for some oil company – ‘No One Gets Hurt. Ever.’ We removed the punctuation due to our artistic nature. It fits the photo well, I think. I love the misguided optimism/unrealistic goals in both the title and the slogan.
Musically, “My Love for You is Out of Control” feels like a sibling to “Tangerine”, with Rick’s drums and Mary’s multi-tracked vocals being the driving force. Although you (Billy) remain the primary songwriter and studio director, has it been important to let all five Madder Rose members find their own distinctive spaces across the album?
Billy: Yes, everyone comes up with their own parts, and Mary will often adjust the melodies I write. The best – and sometimes worst – part of being in a band is seeing a song evolve into this complete, arranged thing. A song is never as good as it is in its infancy, when the possibilities are endless and unnamed. But I would never tell anyone what to play. I’m fairly sure they would ignore me if I did. This is a band of strong personalities.
Those two songs you named take a similar approach in atmosphere. There are a couple of tracks of floaty guitar from me, via a volume pedal, and there are also Mary’s abstract backing vocals. When she sang these, she would come to my house, usually on Sunday morning, and sing one song a couple of times. She’d also do a backing vocal track that was just an improvisation on the melody, and I would move these around and make them into ghost vocals, fading in and out of the songs.
Mary, the wordlessly vocalised “MLMR” is your only writing contribution to the new album. Where did that one come from?
Mary: “MLMR” was a song I started and really thought would turn into something, but I just couldn’t come up with lyrics. I waited a year or two for something to occur to me as a topic, but everything I tried just felt forced. Finally, I said to Billy, “I like the melody but I can’t finish this thing,” and he said, “Well, just go with the melody and harmony lines.” It was a great relief to let myself off the hook and just have fun with it.
How has the working relationship operated over the years in terms of being the vocalist for songs written by Billy? Specifically, how has he introduced them to you – have you had to learn and vocally interpret his lyrics from a written form, as well as from for-your-ears-only-demos?
Mary: Great question! Our process is the same in some ways and different in others. At the very beginning of our working together, he had the demos completely finished and just needed vocals on them – four-track reel-to-reel, don’t you know, at Avenue D and 8th Street. But once we became more comfortable with each other, and he was writing as we were touring and recording, he came to bring the song’s lyrics and melody together for us to flesh out; now he’s likely to have a demo sketch recorded by the time he brings a song to me. He used to be more rigid about melodic flourishes but now seems more accepting when I loosen up. As he’s developed as a producer, too, I see him giving me a lot more space to fool around and generate vocal ideas, which he then mixes in his own creative ways. I enjoy that a lot.
Do you ever question or challenge the lyrics presented to you by Billy?
Mary: Hardly ever. There are times when I wish I had, but mainly, no.
Billy, how do the lyrics tend to bubble up for you to fit with the musical arrangements these days and how different or similar is it compared to Madder Rose’s ‘first act’?
Billy: I try to write by intuition, mostly. If I sense I have a good basis for a song on guitar or whatever, I’ll record it immediately and sing the first melody and syllables that come to mind. I’ll only do it once or twice, and come back to it later. Often the song is in those first few ramblings, including a key word or phrase. That phrase hopefully leads to a lyric. When I started “Tangerine”, for example, I knew the lyrics would have a ghost in them, because the music seemed to float. I had an idea of who it might be. The word ‘tangerine’ is in there because it’s a nice word – and color – and had the required number of syllables. With this method, I’m trying as closely as possible to tap into my subconscious mind.
In the early days of Madder Rose, songs used to pop into my head, at times fully formed. The way my brain works, there always seems to be a lyrical phrase attached to a musical idea. Songs came easier during our first run. I still had to work at them and be attentive, but the flow was, for a few years, unremitting.
Now I use the process described above. I hasten to add that it doesn’t work every time – not even close. But somehow, I can still reliably access that part of my brain. It’s such a thrill to find a melody or hook that resonates. It makes me happy for like, five seconds!
The closing “I Want a New Me” feels very much like a deliberate postscript-meets-reprise, was it a song that instinctively sat apart from the rest of the record?
Billy: Very true. It was the last song I wrote for the record – it came together quickly one night, almost entirely intact. At first, I didn’t think it would fit. The idea was to let the record end with “If I Drift Away”, and the sixty seconds of feedback that closes the song. In other words, a very somber ending. But after adding “I Want a New Me” as the last song, the record became more human – like, let me get up again and repeat my mistakes! Surely, I’ll get it right this time! That’s why it felt appropriate for the song to fade in out of the feedback.
Have any songs been left behind, that might have been banked for the start of the next Madder Rose release?
Billy: Not from me. I wrote others, but I don’t think they’re good enough. I try to be a brutal editor – there’s already so many songs out there.
How has it been working with Trome Records, as a small UK label, been compared with Atlantic and Cooking Vinyl in the previous lifespan of Madder Rose?
Billy: Atlantic was a great experience, if only to see how dysfunctional and insincere the industry was at that time. We met a lot of good people there, but it was a culture of fear – everyone walked around waiting to get fired or waiting for the band they signed to get dropped. And the patriarchy was/is in full effect. Systemic coke-fuelled misogyny without the coke, perpetrated by a bloated hierarchy of morons. Cooking Vinyl on the other hand, was a lot more fun. They were tough business people, but at least they were kinda cool.
Trome, by design are the opposite of Atlantic. Chris, the main guy, makes beautiful objects out of his releases. He’s produced a lot of vinyl, and the releases all have lovely designs and packages. The music Trome traffics in is expansive sometimes but can also be muted and weird. Chris is gracious in dealing with my neurotic demands, such as changing the song order, changing the art, second guessing the mixes etc. I’m proud of these two albums we’ve done together.
Zooming-out a bit, do you have much control and business interaction with Madder Rose’s pre-reunion catalogue? Do you hope that it could someday be reissued with all the relevant and rich extra material, with the same curatorial care and affection that has been given in recent years to the likes of The Lemonheads, Belly, Come and Lush?
Billy: That would be great, but as of now, there are no plans. Also, our two EPs, Swim and The Love You Save, are not available on streaming services. Both those releases have a meaningful place in our catalogue.
Current comprehensive availability of the Madder Rose back catalogue notwithstanding, it feels that the band’s imprint is arguably out there in some younger artists – notably with Alvvays, Snail Mail and A Lilac Decline. Do you ever recognise the inspiration yourselves?
Billy: Not really – I don’t think those bands do the right kind of drugs. I’m kidding, of course. I like Alvvays, but I don’t really hear it. I just listened to A Lilac Decline and that seems more accurate. Maybe their parents had a copy of Bring it Down in the house.
Mary: Who are these bands? I will listen!
Are you still in touch with members of bands that you crossed paths with, in the heavier-touring 90s?
Billy: Yes, casually on social media and so forth. Mary and I did a show in Boston a few years ago, put together by Tanya from Belly, who played her solo stuff. Bill from Buffalo Tom also performed. It was great to see those folks again, and to see they are still making art.
Which records by other artists from Madder Rose’s early years peer group do you still hold affection for?
Billy: Wow, interesting question! I listened to Throwing Muses’ The Real Ramona the other day, and loved it. The 80s drum sound is a little wack, but “Not Too Soon” has the best chorus, and “Honeychain” is remarkable.
I think Buffalo Tom’s records hold up really well, and Belly’s second LP is definitely overlooked. I like Juliana Hatfield’s records from then, and I think she’s made a whole bunch of good ones since, although some have flown under the radar.
Both Breeders records from back then still sound contemporary, and the newer stuff is cool, too. I love that first bunch of stuff from Lush. It still sounds good, and weirder than I remember. Mazzy Star’s older records are so, so great. They’re still on regular rotation – same with the newer stuff – though my rotation is pretty encompassing.
I find it really interesting to see musicians still making records twenty, thirty and fifty years later. I love that Spiritualized are still around. Nick Cave has done so much beautiful stuff. All members of Sonic Youth are still making cool records – I loved Kim Gordon’s solo LP. I know Damon Albarn can be a divisive figure, but the solo LP he did a couple of years ago, The Nearer the Fountain… is kind of great.
Besides Madder Rose activities, do you have any other artistic projects on the go?
Billy: I am doing a recording project right now called Music to Rain. It’s written and played on three guitars that are tuned to the chord of G, but in different ways. Mary is singing on some of it, as well as a few other people. I am also having a showing of some paintings in April at the Grayhaven Motel.
Rick has an ongoing recording project called Kids on Goop – he plays all the instruments, writes the material etc. He also is on the radio a lot, on WJOB in the Northwest Indiana and Chicago market. He has a live variety show on that station with his wife Kat Marlow, called The Frunch Room. He produces and hosts two other pre-recorded shows on that station.
Chris runs a very successful scenic design company in LA.
Matt has a band with his wife Rocio called Disturbios. They put out a very cool LP a couple years ago, and he tells me they’re working on another. Plus, the studio he and Rocio run is still very active, and they produce a lot of acts there.
Inside and out of Madder Rose, through various ups and downs, you’ve maintained an ongoing creative partnership for over thirty years now. To what do you attribute to such a sustainable longevity?
Billy: Because we don’t have to spend twenty-four hours a day together anymore! I may seem flippant in saying that, but spending months on the road with people who would only be casual friends in real life takes a toll. I think a lot of bands would say that.
But more importantly, we sound like us, and that’s a precious thing to me. Chemistry can be fleeting, but for some reason ours endures. The best work I’ve done is probably with these people, so I’m both humbled and honored that we can still occasionally do songs together! I’m proud of both our more current releases.
Mary: Once you have a kid with someone, you’re family. Our son is now 21, and we have raised him collaboratively, respecting our different personalities but being unified in his best interest. Musically, so much has come out of both of us that it stays interesting. Plus, as time goes on, I can’t deny that something occurs in the meeting of Billy’s songs and my singing that’s different musically from when I do my own stuff and he does his. I find that fascinating. Chemistry. Our kid has the knack, too, bless his pointed head.
- Concrete Islands
There’s a danger in nostalgia. As the economies of the world tighten around the throats of those who can least afford it, as we leave a month with 21 of the hottest 30 days ever recorded on the planet, and as we witness the inevitable implosion of late stage capitalism, there’s a pervading cultural discourse which seems to be reflecting on how good things were in the 1990s. The recent re-emergence of Pulp and Blur from under whichever rock it is that hosts Britpop bands is testament to this, as is the proliferation of Nirvana t-shirts in high street fashion shops and cargo pants inexplicably becoming a “thing” again. The past viewed through the rose tinted glasses of temporal distance almost certainly always brings a false sense of what those times were truly about.
Madder Rose’s sixth studio album wallows in a sense of space and place, yet always with a spiritual purpose that reaches beyond the superficial nature of nostalgia. The 10 songs that make up No One Gets Hurt Ever spiral in melancholic displays of hurt and rejection, reflecting on heartache and journeys of love with a fixation on the impending grief that comes as a result.
Formed in 1991, New York’s Madder Rose are purveyors of the downside of love, a celebration of exquisite possibility that makes being alive worth it, despite the all too common conclusions reached. Their Velvet Underground influenced form of shoegaze is present and correct, as is Billy Cote’s love for country tinged guitar lines that float sorrowfully across tracks like spectral beings rather than obvious participants.
When Mary Lorson opens the album with the line “Another day of looking backward / Another day to fall apart” the tone is set. The first track, “Tangerine”, is about a soul being set free, no longer weighed down with worries and the strains of every day life. As the song progresses, Lorson’s background vocals become more central in the mix, and their ghostly presence imbues the song with a wistful sense of acceptance of a sense of letting go, of the beauty and transience of things.
An air of wistfulness is the central tie that connects all of the tracks. The gently propulsive “What Do You Know About My Lover?” features a quietly distressed violin loop from Laura Cannell that adds a wandering element to the album’s most understated song. It’s a gentle lullaby, as is “Bird (Splinters)” which uses the simplest of nursery rhyme traditions of anthropomorphising small creatures to detail the burning pain of the human condition. Both tracks share a knack that Madder Rose have somehow managed throughout their career – the ability to produce songs which sound comfortable in their familiarity, yet are never derivative. Anyone who has heard “While Away” from the band’s majestic 1993 debut album Bring It Down will know exactly what I mean; a nagging feeling that you’re heard the song somewhere before, somehow.
No One Gets Hurt Ever contains some of Billy Cote’s most plaintive and concise song writing. It’s a succinct record, but even in its 36 minute run time there are moments of transgression where the band highlight how they have developed as people and musicians. The only Lorson composition on the record is the exquisite “MLMR” which is the very definition of beautiful fragility (and maybe stands for Mary Lorson, Madder Rose). Lorson has said that while Billy Cote was busy writing the songs that make up the album “I didn’t feel much music during the pandemic. I learned some simple tunes to play at the nursing home where my mother spent her last months, and that was about all the music I could muster…” With that knowledge, “MLMR” feels like a gift. There are washes of guitar over a strummed acoustic while there are mutterings and murmurings rather than words, yet the emotions behind the sounds are clear. It’s an exceptional moment of the record.
Where their earlier albums showcased a range of styles and influences, including raucous guitars, No One Gets Hurt Ever feels more assured in its trajectory. “City Rain” feels like it could easily sit on their 1994 album Panic On with its focus on wet streets and a love for a city that doesn’t love you back. It feels like a sister piece to “What Holly Sees” in its observational reportage of the mundane as precious. “If I Drift Away” is as delicately introspective as anything from 2019’s glorious comeback record To Be Beautiful, while album closer “I Want a New Me (girlghostboyghost)” leaves us on something of a Motown-tinged pop high.
There is absolutely not a weak link on the album, even though some songs take a little longer than others to settle in the brain. A case in point is “Lou Mystery”, which brings all four original members of the band together and sees Matt Verta-Ray and Lorson duet. This is Cote wearing his love for Velvet Underground on his sleeve like never before (the title being not too far away from Lou Mr Reed can’t be by chance, friends), and the song is best summed up the loose drumming from Rick Kubic that sounds both overly languid (half-arsed even) but also entirely controlled. From press statements, it’s clear that this is Cote’s favourite ever Madder Rose song, yet it’s thorny compared to everything else on the record. That’s not to say it isn’t wonderful, it just takes a little while to appreciate it, while the tracks that sit around it are much more immediate. Therein lies the beauty of the band in general.
As with the release of To Be Beautiful, there seem to be no plans at present to get the band back on the road (c’mon, Primavera – get your chequebook out, ffs!), which feels like the only real shame of Madder Rose being back and making wonderful music together again. Despite the whimsical and melancholic longing of the songs, this isn’t nostalgia for the sake of anything other than creative expression. This band deserves a much wider audience, so go wallow in No One Gets Hurt Ever and swim in the musical current that’s strong enough to make you spin your arms in a wild rotation… if you know you know.
- Todd Dedman, Beats Per Minute
This is the Madder Rose you (may) remember: wonderfully smeary indie rock loaded with swaying feels.
Having broken up at the end of the ’90s, undersung NYC indie rock band and college radio faves Madder Rose surprised those who remembered them by putting out To Be Beautiful, their first record in 20 years. It was the mellowest record they’d ever made, with elements of jazz and a few traces of that trip-hop-influenced third album (really), but Mary Lorson and Billy Coté’s bond and the band’s hazy sound was still there. Unfortunately, they didn’t support the album with any live shows, so To Be Beautiful felt more like an unexpected gift than a return. Four years later, Madder Rose are back and sound like they mean it this time. No One Gets Hurt Ever, which also marks the return of Matt Verta-Ray (on one song), is the Madder Rose you remember: smeary indie rock with strong songwriting and atmospheric playing courtesy Coté, and Lorson’s still heavenly voice at the center.
No One Gets Hurt Ever is another of those lockdown records that might have not happened otherwise. “I didn’t feel much music during the pandemic,” says Lorson. “I learned some simple tunes to play at the nursing home where my mother spent her last months, and that was about all the music I could muster, other than going over to Billy’s to sing these songs on Sunday mornings. That’s how Billy spent the pandemic: he wrote and produced these beautiful songs.” While Madder Rose aren’t making upbeat guitar pop like “Beautiful John” anymore, they have always been exceptional at swaying, hazy ballads that rivaled Cowboy Junkies or Mazzy Star. There are a whole bunch of those here, the best of which is “Lou Mystery” that alone justifies this record’s existence. They’re even playing a show, their first since 1999 — a last-minute fill-in at Dromedary Records’ 30th anniversary — and let’s hope this gives them the push to keep going. These songs need to be heard live.
- Brooklyn Vegan
In 2019, New York alt-rock veterans, Madder Rose, returned with their first album in 20 years, To Be Beautiful. Any momentum from the release was stunted by the COVID pandemic, but it didn’t deter the band from releasing an equally great follow-up in No One Gets Hurt Ever.
Once again, Mary Lorson takes the reins with a series of neo-psych alt-rock songs inspired by the Velvet Underground, and while their ’90s peers, Julianna Hatfield and Kristin Hersh, may have delivered alt-rock fit for road-trips, Madder Rose preferred the warmth of the campfire flames.
And it doesn’t change here. For those a little underwhelmed by the latest Mazzy Star release, you could do a lot worse than Madder Rose’s No One Gets Hurt Ever, which continues the band’s solid run of form.
Madder Rose belongs to the forgotten cult bands of the 90s, but just like on the comeback album from 2019, the American band also shows on No One Gets Hurt Ever that it is capable of great deeds The American band Madder Rose delivers its sixth album with No One Gets Hurt Ever and it is
their sixth excellent album with very melodic songs and the great guitar work of Billy Coté and by the beautiful voice of singer Mary Lorson, who would make two great albums after Madder Rose as Saint Low.. After the four unsung masterpieces from the 90s, the band surprisingly returned in 2019 and four years later there is fortunately another new album by Madder Rose.
Billy Coté and Mary Lorson still manage to inspire each other in which 90s indie rock and a touch of psychedelics merge beautifully. The band will probably never rise above cult status.
The band’s new album also revolves around the guitar work, production and songs of Billy Coté and the still beautiful voice of Mary Lorson. Madder Rose also quotes from the music it made in the 90s on her sixth album, but this time the band sounds just a bit less gritty, although the guitar work is certainly there and there is room for modest guitar walls here and there.
Especially when the guitars sound a bit more psychedelic and Mary Lorson sings full of incantation, the comparison with Mazzy Star is again obvious, but Cowboy Junkies also provides absolutely relevant comparison material. With this I have two of my favorite bands of all time, but No One Gets Hurt Ever ultimately sounds like Madder Rose,
When I think of the name Madder Rose, I first think of the four great albums that the American band released in the 90s. With 1993’s Bring It Down, 1994’s Panic On, 1997’s Tragic Magic and 1999’s Hello June Fool, the New York-based band delivered four classics.
- The Fat Angel Sings