Pre-order of To Be Beautiful. You get 2 tracks now (streaming via the free Bandcamp app and also available as a high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more), plus the complete album the moment it’s released.
Limited Edition LP Vinyl, with premier printed inner-sleeve of beautiful artwork featuring four paintings by Billy Cote.
Includes digital pre-order of To Be Beautiful.
You get 2 tracks now
(streaming via the free Bandcamp app
and also available as a high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more), plus the
complete album the moment it’s released.
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