By George Dean, Proofreader
In their 20th January interview with Genuine Irish, sixdays prior to the release of their debut album, NewDad’s lead singer Julie Dawson proclaimed Madra (2024) “A very big step up from what we’ve done”; she assuredfans “but it’s still us”, whilst gleefully affirming that “it’s a rock album”. Lead guitarist Sean O’Dowd weighed in, commenting that “We’ve had enough of indie […] we’ve had enough of it as a society […] now we wanna rock”.
NewDad overlaid the mechanisms of shoegaze onto a canvas of gently melancholic indie-pop in their EPs Waves (2021) and Banshee (2022). Their harnessing of shoegaze has become emboldened in Madra, as the quartet have gutsily manoeuvred towards gothic rock. Madra’s soundscape plays in black and white, in torn rags and feathers; whilst Waves and Banshee evoked teenage angst and naivety, the overriding tones of Madra are eerie and twisted, numbed by self-loathing and yearning, tinged with the dark forces of the supernatural and celestial. This is NewDad at their most tragic and vulnerable.
Madra’s opening track ‘Angel’ (which featured in Epigram Music’s Top 100 Songs of 2023) is a valiant statement of intent for the album as a whole; in a manner akin to The Stone Roses’ ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, it is an epitomising exhibition of NewDad’s expansive qualities within the record. I am eagerly anticipating seeing NewDad play at Trinity Centre in Bristol on 3rdMarch. As the venue is a re-purposed 19th century church building, built with Bath stone in the gothic Perpendicular style, it should provide a sufficiently haunting space for NewDad to fill.
The thematic elements established in ‘Angel’ are built upon in the lyricism of the album’s second runner ‘Sickly Sweet’, which pulsates with ill desire through evoking Original Sin – “A shiny thing, I want to pick / Take a bite and spit you out”. There is an intense, whirling physicality connected to the song’s title – “Now I’m nauseous and I don’t even like you”.
Rishi Shah (Kerrang!) has captured Madra’s culmination of musical influences under the term “atmospheric dream-rock”, highlighted by the involvement of Alan Moulder in production (The Smashing Pumpkins).
However, Madra does fall back upon the indie-pop hooks which defined NewDad’s EPs; I could not help but crave that the band would lean further into the heavier, grungier potentialities of the gothic soundscape. Comparisons to The Cure and My Bloody Valentine have been by no means unfounded, but even from the fact that there is simply no song which goes above four and a half minutes in the album, Madra is clearly no Disintegration (1989).
‘In My Head’ contains a catchy opening through its subtle jangly guitar riffs, but it is a largely futile track which adds little to NewDad’s project – it felt as if the band were going through the motions.
Having said that, NewDad may have felt that if they had abandoned indie-pop altogether, they would have lost the commercial appeal they developed in Waves and Banshee. The tenderness of ‘Change My Mind’ bridges the gap between Madra and the EPs; its gracefully executed hook and accompanying lyrics have rung around in my head for some time: “Your eyes, they look like mine / So, I can see you feel confined”.
NewDad’s gothic fusion is less successful in ‘Let Go’, a predictably noisy track with an incurious climax in the chorus, marked by the clichéd lyrics “I can’t let go”.
When talking to 10 magazine, lead singer Dawson confessed that she wanted NewDad fans to feel “relief” when listening to the album. This comment most prominently brings to mind ‘Nosebleed’: comforting in its heaviness and fatigue, which are harnessed to conceive a majestically misty atmosphere. The 10-second hum of synth-y bass at the beginning of the track reminded me of Radiohead’s ‘All I Need’. A wavy ballad, I found ‘Nosebleed’ the most emotionally impactful chapter of Madra, as it cathartically recalls lost loves which the listener has been compelled to let go of, for the sake of their own peace. Dawson’s pain is deep and primal: “You’re carless like a father / Cruel like a mother”.
‘Nosebleed’ is hardly NewDad’s only moment of plunging emotional vulnerability. The aching ‘White Ribbons’ appeals to Arlo Parks-esque bedroom pop sensibilities: “It’s so pretty how you mend yourself / Never mind the hands you were dealt / ‘Cause I know they never helped”. One would be forgiven for mistaking the regretful, self-loathing lyricism of self-titled closing track ‘Madra’ as that of The Smiths: “And I’m just really sorry / That you even have to be around me”.
This upcoming summer, NewDad will be descending upon mid-size indie-rock festivals in the UK including Truck Festival and Y-Not, which will prove valuable opportunities for the band to reach new listeners; depending upon public reception to Madra, and the visibility of NewDad’s tour of the UK and Ireland between January and March, I am pondering whether they are imminently set to hit a big stage.
Regardless, what one can be sure of is the following:
Indie, particularly in its long-standing affair with pop music, has become over-saturated; the genre’s recycling of its own components and spitting them back out again cannot continue perpetually – the bubble is bursting. Through playing a leading role in reviving shoegaze, and their compelling flirtations with the gothic, NewDad have set the foundations for the desperately needed extension of experimentation and subversion within indie music.
Featured Image: Zyanya Lorenzo
Have you listened to Madra?