It’s only been nearly three years since NewDad released their debut EP, Waves, and already a major label has hedged their bets on the shoegazer’s promise. Their debut full-length MADRA on Atlantic Records however, sounds like the gentle, introspective Galway band have been ushered uncomfortably into mainstream focus too soon.
It’s lead singer Julie Dawson’s illustrative lyrical candour which has been brought to the fore throughout MADRA. Using NewDad as the vehicle to purge emotions and vulnerabilities she elsewhere buries, Dawson bravely analyses her history of previous loves – some that seem unrequited – and being the victim of school bullying.
The claustrophobic helplessness of the dreamy ‘Nightmares’ is absorbing, and an internalised self-criticism pervades ‘White Ribbons’ which details romantic desire unravelling into delusion. There’s a disarming cynical edge to Dawson’s songwriting, when you delve beneath the unthreatening and sparkly facade.
“You see / We haven’t seen the same things / We don’t have the same dreams’, Dawson laments on ‘In My Head’, justifying the split from a toxic partner that didn’t realise her scope. Though, in her heart-of-hearts likely didn’t expect said dreams to be within such close reach this soon into the four-piece’s tenure. They’ve come to this juncture at an accelerated pace.
Alternative music from the Emerald Isle has undergone a real renaissance in recent years, with the likes of Fontaines D.C. and CMAT – and, to a lesser extent, The Murder Capital and Sprints – being on the end of effusive critical praise. The same trajectory might’ve been planned out for NewDad once they’d signed to the Ahmet Ertegun-founded label, though their twinkling, nocturnal sound up to this point felt more akin to the dissonant dream-pop of Irish cult heroes My Bloody Valentine.
On MADRA, the once-foggy sonics of their most-streamed songs ‘I Don’t Recognise You’ and ‘Blue’ have been sharpened up, with crisp, forceful production beefing up the grungier ‘Let Go’ and the swagger of ‘Sickly Sweet’. There’s even a reference to the billowing bassline of Nirvana’s ‘Come As You Are’ on opener ‘Angel’. Dawson isn’t as reluctant as Kurt Cobain to become a spokesperson for the disaffected however. “I want people to listen and relate and feel like it can help them. Because honestly, it’s helped me a lot”, she stated when the album was first announced.
The message is clearer, but the polish puts NewDad in a similar bracket to contemporaries Black Honey more so than Cocteau Twins. Or you can call it evolution.
There’s a disjoint between the love-scorned lullabies Dawson writes and the ‘pop rock’ production, which aims for an anthemic anti-love type tenacity that the songs just don’t possess. Her hushed delivery is tailor-made for hazy, swooning shoegaze, but the band – or label – seemingly have their eyes on the prize of stadium-sized shows in the not-too-distant future. And that’s probably where these eleven songs will flourish.
MADRA is incredibly pretty and suggests NewDad have buckets of promise to fulfil. It just also emphasises their growing pains.