Album Review by Mark Bayross
Despite the Spanish name, Madrugada actually come from the far north of Norway. Equally surprisingly, there’s nothing here to give you any idea of the inhospitable climes from which the four-piece hail on this, their debut album. The sound is more Nashville than Norway.
VOCAL is quite an arresting way to begin the album. Dark-as-night chord sequences, funereal drums and Sivert Hoyem’s beautiful but tortured voice send a chill down the spine. I’m sure I am not the first to say this, and I’ll probably not be the last, but this sounds not a million miles from Chris Isaak. BEAUTYPROOF is rawer: it starts quietly but the melody is floored halfway through by a still-tuneful wall of noise à la Sonic Youth.
Hoyem comes over all Leonard Cohen on SHINE, although as he launches into the chorus, he sounds strangely like Thom Yorke. It’s followed by the dark, almost goth-inflected HIGHER and SIRENS, and the ghostly STRANGE COLOUR BLUE, although the latter suffers from some rather odd lyrics: “Blue. Strange colour blue. Coming back to you. Pushing through. Pouring rain. Nearly there. Nearly there…”
After the graveyard shift, the rootsy THIS OLD HOUSE, with its harmonica and hammond organ, lets in a ray of sunlight, although the vocals keep things nice and melancholic, as Hoyem intones “never leave this old house” like he’s handing down a prison sentence for all eternity.
Things pick up considerably with the spaghetti western drama of SALT, which marries a Nick Cave-style demented vocal performance to some powerful chords, with its snaking organs and insistent snare drums. BELLADONNA, which featured on Madrugada’s eponymous debut EP alongside STRANGE COLOUR BLUE is just as dramatic – dirty, brooding guitars and echoey vocals like a less chaotic Gallon Drunk.
The title of NORWEGIAN HAMMERWORKS CORP. had me expecting some serious Einsturzende Neubauten industrial pipe-banging, but instead, it’s a slow-building piece, with sleek Joy Division bass and some pleasingly noisy guitars. The spoken-sung vocals and feedback-drenched strumming sound a bit like the sadly forgotten Irish band “Whipping Boy”. By way of contrast, QUITE EMOTIONAL is a simple comedown ballad, its “…quite emotional now…” refrain a master of understatement.
The album finishes with TERRAPLANE, a huskily-sung piano ballad with some hollow-sounding drums and the ultimate full-stop to an album that’s hardly been a barrel of laughs: “I’m gonna ride the terraplane to the ground”.
This is worth a listen, even if, as per the tormented painter in The Fast Show, everything is painted in a rather oppressive black. Despite the claustrophobic atmosphere, there are some moments where the sound is expansive and the music truly emotive.