MODERN ALBUM REVIEW: Porridge Radio’s ‘Every Bad’ (2020)

Porridge Radio formed in Brighton in 2015 and consist of bassist, Maddie Ryall; keyboardist, Georgie Stott; drummer, Sam Yardley; and guitarist and lead singer, Dana Margolin. Since forming, the band have slowly set about building their profile; releasing a number of albums via independent labels until, eventually, they began to be noticed in the latter stages of the 2010s. They were picked as one of the top 40 new artists of 2018 by The Guardian newspaper and were invited to perform on BBC Radio 6 in May 2019. By the end of 2019 the band had got themselves on every record label’s shortlist but it was Secretly Canadian, an independent label from the US, that won the race to sign them in December 2019. Shortly after, in March 2020, they released their spectacular label debut, ‘Every Bad’, which turned them from a little known band into a Mercury Prize nominated one.

The album floats heavily around the theme of disenchantment, with the Brighton four-piece examining modern life and often suggesting there to be no clear answer to the questions we face. However, the album doesn’t seem to settle on a specific theme and shifts its position at various points, juxtaposing one narrative with another. There are thematic comparisons to be drawn with other musicians; the band often touch on the same themes of melancholic dejection as Nick Cave and they seem to take a kind of Patti Smith-inspired approach to their poetic-punk lyrics. Though partly derivative, originality is not something the record is devoid of.

Musically the album has a somewhat fragmented sound. It dips into a number of genres ranging from Indie pop to full-fat Punk and launches from one to the other within the same track, creating a whirl of sound it’s impossible to not get dragged into. Track two on the album, ‘Sweet’, is a good example of this; it jumps from a lo-fi soft sound to all out thrashing and back again to such an extent that you don’t know where you are by the end of it. Similarly, track three, ‘Don’t Ask Me Twice’ begins with a menacing, drum driven guitar riff before floating into a dreamy chorus, reminiscent of a Foals track, until building itself up to an intoxicating screamathon. All this happens within 3 minutes and 21 seconds. The fragmented approach to song structure is powered forward by the vocal ability of the band’s lead singer, Dana Margolin. She is able to facilitate the sonic change in a number of tracks with her innate talent to change the style of her singing, allowing such dramatic musical changes to sound cohesive. There are points on the record when her vocal does seem to lose its tie with the rest of the track, however; track nine, ‘Circling’, features Margolin floating a little too far adrift vocally, and as a result the song feels disjointed rather than cohesive. On the whole, however, the deep-rooted vocals on the album are a stunning performance.

The sound of the album also sounds heavily inspired by Pun’s DIY ethos and sounds at times like there’s little more involved in the making of a track than a couple of guitars and a drum kit (their debut album also embodies this and was literally recorded in a garden shed) Track seven, ‘Give/Take’ is so simplistic and minimalistic that it sounds like a 70s throwback, while track six, ‘Pop Song’ shows the band taking it down a notch and demonstrates their ability to take things slower; the track features melodic, chorus-infused floaty guitars, dreamy keyboards and soft vocals and track finds Margolin far removed from the trenches of chaotic noise that surround her at earlier points in the album. The juxtaposition of some of the tracks gives the record an experimental feel and suggests the group wanted the album to take on a variety of flavours.

The DIY DNA of the album also shows itself in the lyrics, which are as honest and down to earth as they are relevant and compelling. Margolin first started writing in her bedroom and there’s a number of times when the lyrics on the record point to this period of self contemplation. She seems to be trying to see the purpose of existing in a world that seemingly has very little to offer. ‘Don’t Ask Me Twice’ features the line: “I don’t know what I want/But I know what I want”, which alludes to the fact that the lead singer is stuck in a loop of self-questioning without the means to break it. Similarly, track three, ‘Long’ depicts the emotions felt when it becomes clear your time is being wasted, and lines such as: “I forget what I stay here for” and: “Leaves a sad taste in your mouth” capture the anger and frustration felt with a simplistic and honest tone. Later on in the album there’s yet another juxtaposition; track eight, ‘Lilac’ implores the listener to not hold grudges: “I don’t want to get bitter/I want us to get better” sings Margolin, promoting the view that we should accept it when things don’t go as we expect. This is far removed from the anger expressed in ‘Long’. The lack of a specific attitude is, I think, indicative of the album’s stance as a whole, and suggests that the lyrics are questioning the world and trying to work it out, rather than offering a certain point of view or solution.

The album achieves a lot and, though I think they have vast space in which to expand, it’s an almost perfect way to introduce themselves to a wider audience. To my mind, the fragmented style pushes the record forward rather than holds it back and I don’t think I’ve heard something quite as original or fresh as this in a while. It’s not tied down to any genre or style, nor does it adopt a specific lyrical stance. It’s an album of self discovery, of inquisition, of anger, and of youth. The diversity of musical styles make the record impossible to dislike and the inquisitiveness of the lyrics force you to look inward. It’s not a perfect record, but it’s not far off. I’m sure the band will build on their sound in the years to come and I have no doubt that they will continue to have the impact they have had with ‘Every Bad’. This is by far one of the best albums of 2020 and I look forward to the material the band produces in the future. Porridge Radio might just be one of the bands of this decade. Watch this space.

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