On New Album, Porridge Radio Seeks Truth in Life’s Contradictions: NPR

Porridge Radio’s new album, Water slide, diving board, ladder to the skyis an intense record in pursuit of uncomfortable truths.

Matilda Hill Jenkins / Courtesy of the artist


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Matilda Hill Jenkins / Courtesy of the artist


Porridge Radio’s new album, Water slide, diving board, ladder to the skyis an intense record in pursuit of uncomfortable truths.

Matilda Hill Jenkins / Courtesy of the artist

Dana Margolin, singer of Porridge Radio, demands precise environmental conditions on “Back To The Radio”, the first song of the British group’s new album Water slide, diving board, ladder to the sky: “Lock all the windows and close all the doors / And go inside the house and lie down on the cold hard floor.” Only then can she focus on the work she needs to do. “We can’t improve if we can’t talk about it,” she sings. Margolin has been known since the band’s debut album in 2016, Rice, pasta and other garnishes, that good intentions are meaningless without the effort necessary to bring them to fruition. At the time, his songs showed a reluctance to act on this knowledge, an urge to withdraw from the world at the sight of conflict. On Waterslidehowever, she only steps back to better face everything she might have missed before, both the good and the bad.

Getting better was also the goal Every bad, the band’s 2020 album filled with choruses that punished like screws twisting in wood with every rehearsal. “I don’t want to get bitter, I want us to get better,” Margolin chanted on “Lilac,” the lyrics unraveling as she screamed. Its earnestness crowned bands like Beat Happening and Tiger Trap, whose emphasis on the mundane and joyful revolutionized the sensibilities of punk while remaining informed by its sound, like the ancestors of Porridge Radio. On Waterslide, Margolin is more ruthless with her self-questions and willing to admit that she can be a hindrance to herself. She sets the stakes early on when she asks questions about change and stasis on the song “Trying”: “What if I never make it? What if I don’t come back to life?” There is no pretend answer; the listener is only a witness to his anxieties.

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For Margolin, a truthful examination of emotional life excludes easy resolutions. Throughout the album, an even backward fall into neglect meets any move she makes to improve. “Flowers” is a photo-negative of the mission-focused opening track, darker and slower but with the same speech pattern. Its intensity surprises; Margolin goes from an image of soft tomatoes to a statement: “If I am punished, I am free from evil.” When the track gives way to a piano breakdown like Coldplay’s “Clocks,” it seems like the pressure might evaporate with it. But at the end of the song, Margolin raises her voice higher to sing about emptying the filth from her heart: “I said it was clear but I know it wasn’t.” This is not a defeat, but a reminder that self-deception can poison any attempt at change.

Getting it wrong requires you to at least know which direction you’re trying to go, and in these songs Margolin usually doesn’t. This condition propels the humor of her writing as she drives out ever greater contradictions within herself. On “U Can Be Happy If U Want To,” she details how her skin, head, and voice are glued to someone else’s, backed by a single proclamation: “I don’t need nothing.” His request complicates when you consider the previous track “Rotten”, which ends with the admission “I’m afraid to take what I need”. Sometimes she layers contrasting exhortations with doubts in the space of a single track. “Jealousy”, lame and dark like the disturbing black rock of Portishead, reproduces the confused state of mind that jealousy produces. “Nothing makes me as sad as you,” she sings, before immediately resuming: “Nothing makes me sad”. Margolin knows that life is not confusing just because it is difficult to determine what is right and what is wrong, but because several contrasting truths can exist within you at the same time.

According to press documents, a chance encounter with a collage by British-Argentine visual artist Eileen Agar inspired the title of the record. Hagar’s works consist of startling unions of the weird and the playful, much like the music of Porridge Radio, present when the band uses an anthem-like synth line to lead into a lyric about the expulsion of a burst (“Splintered”) or spins a simple confession. of volcanic heartache with a guitar solo (“The Rip”). In their embrace of the absurd and the surreal, the band resembles fellow British rock experimenters Dry Cleaning, whose lead singer Florence Shaw draws pathos and humor from the collisions of found texts and often inscrutable observations of the world. which surrounds it. While Shaw impassive the detritus of life, Margolin screams the mundane events that fill the day on spiral vertigo. “A fear of death, a fear of dying / Why doesn’t the dog pick up the stick?” she spits on “Birthday Party”. It often seems that Margolin’s ragged voice and the phrases she repeats on almost every track are all that ties her to the physical world. This is a high stakes game; repeat a word or phrase one too many times and it could completely lose its meaning.

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Trying to make sense of the incomprehensible, Water slide, diving board, ladder to the sky works similarly to elegy, a poetic genre whose lack of fixed form or structure attempts to accommodate the variability of grief and the seeming impossibility of death. “Back To The Radio” reminds me of “Funeral Blues”, a famous elegy by British-American poet WH Auden. “Stop all the clocks, cut the phone, / Stop the dog from barking with a juicy bone,” the narrator asks in the first lines of this poem, also calling for good environmental conditions to consider the death of his loved one. “Silence the pianos and with a deaf drum / Take out the coffin, let the mourners come.” Although Margolin’s call to close a house and lie on the ground is not the same as asking the entire planet to shut up, it contains a similar ambition to find time and space. to understand everything. And throughout the record, she points out a lot of things that she needs to understand: what it means to want; whether moving forward is possible; if Porridge Radio deserves the success it has found. It’ll take more than one record to get there, and until then, at least Porridge Radio is ready to talk about it.

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