Monday, March 26, 2018
Madam West - Warm Bodies EP (2018)
My introduction to Brooklyn based quintet Madam West happened as all my discoveries tend to happen: completely randomly. I had been invited to a house show by Caleb Moore from Lands & Peoples who was visiting Brooklyn playing with his new band Wae and 3/5 of Madam West were there to see Operator Music Band. A spilled drink set us on a collision course where I got to know Madam West's Sophie, Todd, and Will, the fact that they were all in a band together came up naturally, and after enjoying the sets, I made a mental note to check out their band. A mental note I didn't really follow up on until several months later when I caught their live show at C'mon Everybody. I was immediately taken with Madam West's intersection of artpop, psych rock, and funk and caught them several other times. Each time I saw them they mentioned the fact that most of their songs were new and each subsequent viewing I found them in various stages of recording their EP until their latest show - a record release show also at C'mon Everybody where they announced that not only was it done but that it'd be coming out at the end of the month.
While Madam West were a band I very much enjoyed every time I saw them, they weren't a band I ever particularly planned to write about. Part of this was due in part that their live set was so much better than their previously recorded output. To write about them with only their debut full length Loves You as a reference point would've done them quite a disservice in my opinion as their new songs were so much stronger and better composed than their previously released ones. Some part of me also figured that live energy would be lost in the recording process and I just relegated Madam West to a great live band that I would enjoy in almost exclusively that regard. And then came their Warm Bodies EP.
While Madam West are still best experienced live, their Warm Bodies EP is streets ahead of Loves You. From opener "Strongest Son" to the titular "Warm Bodies", the EP is composed to incredibly universal themes of the what now sense that plagues many a post-grad. Album standout "Erstwhile, Manatee" is probably my favorite display of this as Sophie Chernin and Will Clark wrestle with millennial ennui. "Speaking of excitement, why can't I dream big anymore?" Chernin sings before lamenting: "Is this what happens when we grow older, when we grow apart, grow cold shoulder to cold shoulder?" They're questions she doesn't exactly have the answers to and doesn't try to solve them. Merely vocalizes them and in that way sort of makes a strange peace with them. It's a companion to "Warm Bodies" which posits that connection and passion is what brightens up the doldums of adult life where you sometimes have to work a job you aren't particular passionate about to fuel your actual passions. Or even how the pressures of adult life lock you into a routine and the percolating escapism inherent in that. "Erstwhile, Manatee" says more than "Warm Bodies" cares to and maybe that's why I prefer it. Chernin says so much with so little especially considering the chorus is incredibly vague. But Chernin manages to tackle biological clocks, millennial guilt, impostor syndrome, and in the song's almost spoken word conclusion the nagging feeling that a life outside of the arts might've yielded better prospects. It's Madam West at their most versatile blending their various genre tags into a colorful ear-catching potpourri.
Another strong point of Madam West's Warm Bodies EP is that it finds a home for a one of my favorite single's "L". A song about the L train, it manages to transcend typical songs about the city. Written largely by Clark but featuring Chernin on vocals, the lyrics both personalize the L train while also not really talking that much about it. "L" is one of those songs where you're fairly certain there's something else happening and that's largely because of a breakdown which introduces actual people. It's an exciting twist even as the band cheekily dive deep into vagueness. With a less practiced and less committed band, the fact that the song essentially juggles three if not four seemingly unrelated subjects without making any non-instrumental attempts to connect them would be frustrating but "L" is triumph of composition and that's what essentially smooths over it's various narratives. It gives a sense that what the song is actually about is a riddle only available to those able to pay enough attention. It's a love song of sorts, to the L train, the city itself, and something else entirely but like most good songs the evasive meaning doesn't take away from the song itself.
On Warm Bodies, Madam West come into their own. Their songs are clever and inventive, enjoyable and catchy and feature each of its members' strengths. While their debut full length Loves You saw them introducing their soul-inflected style, Warm Bodies sees them refining it extensively. Though it's the kind of album where a favorite song is sure to pop out, each song is skillfully performed and written with a vibrant energy that's downright captivating. Madam West may be a band that's best experienced live but Warm Bodies does its darnedest to bring that live energy to the listener and largely succeeds.
Madam West's Warm Bodies EP is out now on Floordoor Records. You can cop digital copies from the band via Bandcamp.