Billy Coté – guitars, accordion, atmosphere, production
Chris Giammalvo – bass (4,6,8)
Rick Kubic – tympan meddling
(Oh...and to everyone off the deep end - Johnny says, Fuck Bitch!)
Mary Lorson – vocals, guitars, keyboards
Matt Verta-Ray – bass (2,3)
Tenzin Chopak - background vocals on Bye Love (Disastrous Love)
Alexa Schmitz - violin on Roses
Steve Gollnick - guitar on City Lights
Mix polishing & mastering on track 7 by Will Russell at Electric Wilburland, New York
Chris‘ bass recorded by Adam Lasus at Fireproof, Los Angeles
Mastering by Matt Saccuccimorano (except track 7)
Billy Coté - paintings
Will Cohan - art photography
Pat Burke - Art scanning and layout preparation
Madder Rose thanks: Dylan, Rocio, Ruby and RNV, Kat Marlow, Scott Whitham, Roman Coté, Katie Marks, Tenzin Chopak, Alexa Schmitz, Steve Gollnick Jim Catalano, Adrian Pannett, Irwin Chusid, Laura Elise, Adam Lasus, Will Russell, Dana Billings, Matt Saccuccimorano, Chris Gowers, Brantwood Studios - Billy Schmierka, Morty Schmutzpa Mgmt., Mrs. Maguilicutty, Marcie Farwell.
Trome Records thanks: Billy, Mary, Rick, Matt and Chris. Eternal thanks to Jo, who was way ahead of her time.
TRACK-BY-TRACK COMMENTARY BY BILLY COTE, WITH NOTES FROM MARY LORSON:
To Be Beautiful: A song written after a conversation with Matt Verta-Ray about how your life is at least partially dictated by how you look. Gorgeous people generally have a leg up, and I say that without judgment or (my usual) cynicism. The song is likewise about how so many people long to be different. What is the answer? Why, self-acceptance, of course, or failing that, death. Or maybe get some exercise. Rick insisted that we include his gong on this, so watch for it near the end.
I Don’t Know How to Love You: Everyone falls out of love at some point, do they not? No? Well, this is a song about that moment and its aftermath, and the months, if not years of recovery, and more specifically, the small and oh so slow moments of healing. This song may be, in part, about Mary’s and my separation, because we like to keep it uncomfortable. I played an actual accordion on this, one chord at a time.
I Lost the War: I wrote this in my head while on a trip to NYC. My girlfriend and I were down to see the Bowie exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, and we ran into Matt Verta-Ray on Rivington Street. Matt and I talked about doing some songs together, just the two of us, and I tried to write one that might be suitable. I quickly realized that we should include it on the Madder Rose record, instead. A lot of relationships feel like war these days – not just romantic ones, but work and spiritual and financial and political and sexual ones, too. How did everyone get so angry? I’m not sure. Maybe they should listen to this song – surely that will help. Rick had been pointedly suggesting that I put more guitar on the record, so there are nine tracks of it on here. No comment from Rick, as yet. Guess I shoulda’ put ten. Matt on bass – this sounds a lot like we used to, back when we were young and new, when Melody Maker would send Everett True across the sea to ride around with us in our van.
Hang Around Awhile: Mary wrote this one. It started out as a “chugging” rock song, but I wanted to make it atmospheric, which is my current bent. I see this as sort of a fun song. Now, I am generally opposed to fun songs (who are we, Herman’s Hermits?), but I like the way this came out. I’m not good at having fun – I don’t know what to do with my hands or face or personality. I’d rather dig a ditch than go to a club. But don’t let that stop you. Mary's note: I had some engaging progressions that I liked, and sort of knitted them together. Lyrically: notes on a breakup, from a distance, rather than the raw beginning of the end. Ahem.
City Lights: Another one about my old friend Don Greene, who in death, has become something of a muse. A song about walking around an admittedly idealized NYC late at night, when it was still scary and demented and super-strange. The old-time, weird-looking New Yorkers mixing with the transplanted, high-concept artist types, crammed together on a rat-infested island was surreal, but ultimately no big thing. Everyone just got on with it – good fucking times. Back then we thought nothing could touch us – turns out that wasn’t entirely true. Rick’s drum entrance kind of turned this song on its head, which was fine by me.
On Dit Adieu: Translation – We Say Goodbye. Mary’s song. Sad. Dark. Holy Shit. This song is one of the reasons that this record is subtitled, “Pretty Songs about Death, with Noise.” Had a synth bass on it at first, but Chris livened it up with his Fender Precision Bass, one that he bought off of Tony from Pere Ubu - the band, not the play. Pere Ubu once called an album Dub Housing, which I think is an excellent title.
Mary's note: Too, too many of our sweet people have died in the last ten years. The heavy mystery of this, and the strange sad mingling of the simple and the complex, made this rumination what it became. It started as a stand-alone song, then became a part of my performance memoir "Signals," but then didn't seem right for my last "solo" album Themes from Whatever. I'm very glad it found a home here, and I think Billy created a gorgeous atmosphere.
Roses: Mary’s song. This song contains 16 tracks of vocals. Another dark one. Such an interesting song. How much melody is too much? This much? No, we’re fine.
Mary's note: Again, just a shocking amount of death in recent years; I can't even speak about this one yet. It started as a poem expressing love and sympathy for a dear friend in mourning, which I read over a looper in my words-music residency. Billy heard it then. I didn't know what to do with it until he suggested we use it. I just opened up all over it with the voice, as you can tell, ideas swimming around. Nothing makes any sense, but I decided to let that be appropriate here.
Bye Love (Disastrous Love): Sort of a “Don’t Be Cruel” for the languorous generation. As an adult, one should not be immature or petty during a break-up – that being said, there’s no law against it. Upon reflection, this song should be shorter – oops!
GirlGhosts3: All synths. Same lyric as “I Don’t Know How to Love You,” but a different song, entirely. It’s called GirlGhost3 because it is part of an electronic project I do, partially inspired by the NY subway system. I like to think there are a lot of ghosts down there. I got the title when I heard my son’s then 5 year old cousin tell him about “girl ghosts” – I’ll have that, Lyndsey! Girl Ghosts1&2 came out in 2016 as a vinyl single on the Polytechnic Youth label in the UK, under my name. Roman and Lyndsey are both stunning teenagers now, by the way, so that means there is no chance whatsoever that they will read this.
8/10 - Long-promised reunion recalls languorous early charms
Twenty years since Hello June Fool, Madder Rose's apparent swansong, their fifth album dispenses with their later electronic experimentation, instead spotlighting Mary Lorson's vocal innocence and Billy Cote's Velvets-influenced melancholy. It's admittedly more spacious that early recordings: Cote's pastoral "I Don't Know How To Love You" is a mix of acoustic guitars and accordion tickled with doleful electric guitar notes, and Lorson's "Hand Around Awhile" is a hushed reminder of her St Low solo work. She switches to French, too, on the skeletal, mournful "On Dit Adieu", but "Bye Love (Disastrous Love)" confirms their chemistry remains as magic as it's tragic.
- Wyndham Wallace, UNCUT Magazine (September 2019 edition)
With their first album in twenty years, Madder Rose return with an exquisitely-crafted collection of atmospheric art-pop
Although Madder Rose bowed-out twenty years ago with the overlooked Hello June Fool, an eventual reunion was perhaps inevitable. Like some of the band’s onetime early-90s peers – such as Belly, Buffalo Tom, Sebadoh and Luna – who have reformed or come out of hiatus in recent years, Madder Rose had previously shuffled-off with a sense of unfinished business. Moreover, the fact that songwriting guitarists Billy Coté and Mary Lorson have never really stopped working on music, together or apart, suggested it was only a matter of time before the full gang got back together.
In the interim years this has included Coté’s electronically-framed collaborative project The Jazz Cannon, joint work on TV/film scores, a one-off instrumental duo long-player, a song-based conjoining trio with Kathy Ziegler (as The Piano Creeps) and Lorson’s solo ensemble recordings (initially with Saint Low and more latterly with The Soubrettes). Coté even paddled into more familiar Concrete Islands waters by releasing a lathe-cut seven-inch, of solo ambient-electro explorations, on Polytechnic Youth in 2016. So, the creative chemistry has kept bubbling away even if not always in the same song-lab.
Thus, channelling older unscratched itches and more recently-acquired artisanal skills, along comes the long-in-works To Be Beautiful from a fully-rebloomed Madder Rose, a remotely-assembled but remarkably-cohesive reunion LP which has grown out of an aborted EP release. Featuring Coté and Lorson joined again by dextrous drummer Rick Kubic, original bassist Matt Verta-Ray, onetime replacement bassist Chris Giammalvo and handful of guest players, this is the fulfilling combined-product of an uncompromised and extended familial line-up.
Tonally connecting back to the earlier years of Madder Rose, including but not limited to Coté’s deliberately disorderly Rauschenberg-influenced artwork echoing the sleeves of the group’s first two albums (1993’s Bring It Down and 1994’s Panic On), this nine-track suite also adds in lived experiences and sonic abilities accumulated during the interregnum period. Therefore, we’re presented with songs that transport the thirtysomething angst of the band’s prior existence into more matured middle-age ruminations on love and loss, arranged with an ear to amorphous atmospherics instead of guitar-driven dynamics. Spaciously-produced but packed full of inventive intricacies that reveal themselves on repeated spins, To Be Beautiful is richly-textured without being overly tasteful, with supplementary keyboards, DIY percussion, synths/electronics, accordion, violin and backing vocals fully-integrated in the midst of standard guitars, bass and drums.
The inaugural title-track crystallises the approach commendably; featuring heartbeat-like drums, whirring languid layers of electric guitars and Lorson’s multi-tracked tones gorgeously uncoiling the non-singing Coté’s musings on the societal leg-up that surface beauty can bring. The ensuing “I Don’t Know How to Love You” is a classic Coté-penned reflection on realigning relationships after a ruptured romance, warmly-constructed by leaning into Lorson’s penchant for Bacharach-infused baroque-pop balladry. Things hit a dreamy vintage Madder Rose motherlode with the spine-tingling “I Lost the War”, a winsome meditation on the all-encompassing rage of modern human engagements, rendered with Lorson’s soothing vocals being set amongst tiers of entwined electric and acoustic guitars, balmy bass and drowsy drums. Whilst this strong opening triumvirate is worth the admission price alone, the record relaxes into itself satisfyingly for the remaining running time too, confident and comfortable in its collectivised skin.
Hence, the Lorson-penned “Hang Around Awhile” bobs along on a beautifully ebbing and flowing tide of fidgety synths, organs and somnolent guitars that build-up around a lyric that reimagines something from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours if it had been written long after instead of during a break-up. Coté’s “City Lights” nostalgically looks back on a previously chaotic yet colourful nocturnal NYC existence, with a serene mixture of third album Velvet Underground folk-rock and lysergic Mazzy Star haziness. Lorson’s “On Dit Adieu” and “Roses” peer perceptively into perspectives on death and mourning; with the former coloured-in with shades of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s most sumptuous Gallic noir-lounge-pop and the latter going for an almost hymnal acid-folk ambience. Proceedings close with Coté’s “Bye Love (Disastrous Love)”, a gently-pulsing late-night-prowler about a love-affair turned sour once more and a reprised reincarnation of the title-track (renamed as “GirlGhost3”) that fades things to black over a gently glistening electro-fizz.
Even though the allure of To Be Beautiful could in-part be attributed to the cognitive biases of a long-term Madder Rose sympathiser, it is so much more than a straightforward rapprochement exercise, given the strength of its melodic magnetism and its imaginative range. A very worthwhile return in short then. Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait another two decades for a sequel, as this undoubtedly feels like a band with plenty of artistic fuel still left in the tank.
- Adrian Pannett, Concrete Islands
Much lauded in their early years for mixing the wide-eyed purity of Mary Lorson’s voice and the languorous fuzz of Billy Cote’s guitars, New York’s Madder Rose later lost their way exploring electronic distractions, before splitting at the end of the century. This fifth album teased for a while, happily recalls the mellowest portions of 1994’s Panic On. To Be Beautiful’s hushed restraint is interrupted by shards of cavernous guitars, and tracer trails of high-pitched notes punctuate the airy I Don’t Know How To Love You, which also receives a more skeletal, droney reinvention at the album’s end. Roses, too, is as sparse as it is affecting, Bye Love’s warmth belies its sorrowful outlook, and On Dit Adieu masks its grief in French. No wonder the album’s subtitled Pretty Songs About Death, With Noise
- Wyndham Wallace, Long Live Vinyl magazine September 2019.
Madder Rose are the band Throwing Muses could have been. Coming to prominence in 1993 with their exquisite debut Bring It Down, their career trajectory peaked a year later on the release of their second album Panic On (listen to ‘Car Song’ from that record and tell me it’s not an absolute cracker). Two more increasingly underrated albums followed before their split in 1999. Now they return, with the original line-up of Mary Lorson (vocals and guitar), Billy Coté (guitar), Matt Verta-Ray (bass) and Rick Kubic (drums) all present and correct. Coté and Lorson continued to work together in a range of musical projects in the interim years, most notably on Lorson’s Saint Low project which Coté played on and produced, and it seemed for some time that a reunion of their former band seemed unnecessary (to them). The former indie haze of their earlier work, with sweet vocals over fuzzy distortion and lo-fi recording, has been replaced with a sheen which brings their sound into the 21st century whilst still retaining the unmistakable signature sounds of the band. There are, however, no bangers like ‘Beautiful John’ or ‘Drop a Bomb’ on To Be Beautiful as the collection of nine songs here all share a downbeat sensibility.
The album opens with the title track which is slow, introspective and beautifully melancholic. It sounds exactly how Aldous Harding tried to make Designer sound. It is the very best kind of song – it’s pessimistic and self-deprecating and gorgeous. Where their former output was driven by musicianship, it feels as though To Be Beautiful is pushed forward by atmospherics. There is a timeless quality to the opening track, with Lorson’s exquisite vocal higher in the mix than perhaps it has ever been, some 60s style ‘ba-ba’ backing vocals and Coté’s understated yet still Velvet Underground-esque guitar work in the background adding to the scope of a song which is both simple and multifaceted at the same time. It is in their ability to make their work seem a breeze that makes Madder Rose such a rewarding listen. Their songs sound familiar while avoiding any sense of being derivative. The lyrics of the title track focus on the need to feel desired, to be beautiful so that people write songs about you, to be invincible or just to be walked home. The yearning that marked their earlier output is replaced with more existential issues of identity whilst also making valuable commentary on the world around us.
‘I Don’t Know How To Love You’ follows and continues the theme of unashamed hearts-on-sleeves honesty and vulnerability. There are few greater songwriters than Lee Hazlewood, so to say that this has echoes of his style is nothing but the highest of compliments. The pay-off lyric of “Then you walk by” is as uplifting as this album gets and it is effective in its simplicity. Lorson’s voice sounds sweeter than ever, the grain of her voice is smooth yet wilting under the weight of her own sense of self-doubt as the narrative of the song centres on new love in the face of the trials and tribulations of working out your place in an earlier doomed romance. ‘I Lost the War’ feels as close to pre-hiatus Madder Rose than any other track here whilst also having an air of Leonard Cohen about it, which was less apparent back then. The trio of opening tracks are sumptuous in their delivery, with a doleful edge which is exactly the perfect tone for repeat listens as layers are revealed each time.
The sombre tone of the first three tracks is retained for the duration of the album and it is about this time in a review where I tend to focus on the weaker aspects of the album, but it’s difficult to find any, in all honesty. Okay, the alt-folk ‘Roses’ leaves me a little cold. There.
‘Bye Love (Disastrous Love)’ has a Pale Saints quality to it, with its ability to draw wonder from pain, while the Lorson-penned ‘Hang Around Awhile’ has all of the hallmarks of the lyrical tone of their earlier work which often centred on being in the moment, doing next to nothing, the slacker element still resides within these souls.
Madder Rose often stood apart from their peers at the time as too fragile, lacking the exuberant confidence that earmarked the mid-90s musical landscape. It is little surprise, then, that their return is heralded by an album of intense charm and pulchritude rather than the all-too-common money-grab of live shows with band members who openly despise each other. Madder Rose always seemed to be a band who played by their own rules, and it seems that little has changed in that respect in the last 20 years. To Be Beautiful is an album to get lost in, and it feels like the warmest of hugs from an old friend.
- Todd Dedman, The 405
Desta sempre una certa impressione trovarsi in presenza di un nuovo lavoro di una band assente dalle scene da vent’anni, sia quando si tratta di una tra quelle che hanno impresso la propria impronta nella temperie musicale degli anni Novanta, sia quando il ritorno in questione appartiene a musicisti che avevano vissuto quel periodo in maniera più defilata. In realtà, la collaborazione tra Mary Lorson e Billy Coté, rispettivamente voce e chitarra dei Madder Rose, era proseguita ben oltre la pubblicazione del quarto e ultimo album della band (“Hello June Fool”, 1999), ma solo da poco, sull’onda della rivitalizzazione dei suoni morbidi e sognanti di un paio di decenni addietro, i due hanno preso l’iniziativa di una reunion integrale della formazione originale.
Di fronte a tempi nuovi e a diverse condizioni di maturità personale e artistica, si è mai del tutto spenta la passione musicale della band, che in “To Be Beautiful” riprende le fila di un discorso interrotto vent’anni fa come se invece il tempo non fosse mai passato. Fin dai primi accordi della title track d’apertura si percepisce infatti un senso di consumata naturalezza nella scrittura, nelle sinuose interpretazioni di Mary Lorson e in soluzioni sonore che bilanciano languori sognanti con una grana elettrica in prevalenza evanescente, ma non aliena da increspature.
Su tali cardini si sviluppano tutti i nove brani che formano il lavoro, che oscillano tra dolcezze sognanti in odor di Paisley Underground ( “I Lost The War” riecheggia delizie in odor di Mazzy Star) e saggi di un pop ricercato, costruito su riverberi avvolgenti e ariosi rilanci armonici (“City Lights”, “Roses”). Seppur non sempre efficaci nella combinazione tra scrittura e arrangiamento, le canzoni di “To Be Beautiful” non si limitano a riecheggiare un lessico antico, ma ne ridefiniscono i caratteri alla luce di una maturità che continua a regalare sensazioni carezzevoli, non soltanto animate da nostalgia.
- Raffaello Russo, Music Won't Save You
Als eine der raffiniertesten und facettenreichsten Indierock-Bands der 90er schwammen Madder Rose schon damals mit viel Understatement gegen den Strom, eine Tugend, die sie sich auch auf ihrem wunderbaren Comebackalbum ´To Be Beautiful´ bewahrt haben. In traurig gestimmten Liedern über Verlust, Herzschmerz und Hoffnung betonen die Amerikaner auf ihrer ersten Platte seit 20 Jahren mit verträumten Melodien ihre gedämpft-minimalistische Seite und lassen Mary Lorsons zuckersüßen Gesang zumeist den Vortritt vor Billy Cotés krachig lärmender Gitarre, wenn sie mit herrlich reduzierten Akustiknummern, sanftem Elektronik-Einsatz und dezent-atmosphärischen Ambient-Elementen die Eckpfeiler ihres leider viel zu oft überhörten bisherigen Schaffens in ein neues Licht rücken. Mehr ´The Velvet Underground´ als ´Loaded´, könnte der LP-Untertitel nicht treffender sein: ´Pretty Songs About Death, With Noise´.
***** - Westzeit
Underrated ’90s-era NYC indie group returns, in quieter, more sultry form, for their first album in 20 years. It’s great.
New York City has been a hotbed of indie rock for the last 20 years or so, but in the early and mid-’90s there wasn’t a whole lot going on. Most of the bands were coming out of the Pacific Northwest, the South or Midwest, and NYC had Blonde Redhead, Cake Like, Lotion, Guv’ner, Luna, Ivy, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Bowery Electric, Pavement (kinda), and not a lot else. (I am probably missing some obvious ones.) There was also Lower East Side band Madder Rose, who made wonderful, fuzzy, melodic, occasionally psychedelic rock. Led by singer/guitarist/songwriter Mary Lorson and guitarist/songwriter Billy Coté, they were a little like The Blake Babies but with more of a druggy New York attitude and, on the slow numbers, real beauty. The band released two good albums for “cool” Atlantic imprint SEED (1994’s Panic On is really good), then 1997’s not-so-good, trip-hop-influenced (everyone loved Tricky in the mid-’90s!) Tragic Magic on Atlantic proper, before going back to their roots for 1999’s Hello June Fool on Cooking Vinyl. They broke up the same year as that last one, just when things were about to heat up in their hometown.
Lorson and Coté continued to work together, often helping out on each others post-band projects (like Lorson’s Saint Low, whose albums Coté produced). At some point this decade, there were rumors there might be a new Madder Rose album and now here we are, 20 years after breaking up, with To Be Beautiful. There’s not a lot of indie rock on this one, but the bones of Madder Rose are still here. To Be Beautiful is nine truly lovely, laid-back songs full of warm atmosphere, sad grandeur and a little scruff. (The album isn’t subtitled “Pretty Songs about Death, with Noise” for nothing.) The layered and inventive arrangements sound modern, but don’t call attention to themselves, and the songs are full of great little touches. More than anything, it all works toward highlighting Lorson’s smoky, sultry voice, Coté’s textured guitarwork and their great songs. The album hits a high late in the record with “On Dit Adieu” and the harmony-rich “Rose,” which are both about lost friends, and both sound like Madder Rose finally figured out how those trip hop influences could work in their music without, y’know, sounding like trip hop.
You could also call To Be Beautiful an adult contemporary record for those who would never ever listen to adult contemporary and it’s not a million miles from what Cowboy Junkies or Hope Sandoval are doing these days. In other words, it’s “mature,” but not boring. To Be Beautiful transcends the “comeback” tag, works on its own gorgeous merits and succeeds wildly in the goals of its title.
- Bill Pearls, Brooklyn Vegan
New York indie-poppers ruminate on mid-life crises for dark return.
The two decades since their previous album, Hello June Fool, have weathered Madder Rose. Mary Lorson’s pristine vocals remain achingly Karen Carpenter-esque, perfectly offset by Billy Cote’s lowering, lyrical guitar-playing, but their fifth full-lengther is characterised by the common milestones of middle-age – loss, broken relationshps, dreams finally drifting out of reach. Accurately subtitled “pretty songs about death, with noise” the album’s overcast themes throw a different light upon their proprietary blend of Brill Building songcraft and shoegazy ambience. But while the charms of To Be Beautiful might be downbeat, they aren’t to be disregarded – the shimmering waltz of I Lost The War is sad and lovely, while Mary’s multi-tracked harmonies leaven the mortal meditations of On Dit Adieu, and lend a haunting folk rock haze to the mesmeric raga of Roses.
- Stevie Chick, MOJO magazine (October 2019 edition)