With baroque pop moments of religiously-infused wonder, Sloppy Jane’s articulation of theme throughout Madison is a strong, intense revelation. Eccentricity is at the heart of their live performance and movement of lead singer Haley Dahl, with a grand gusto and effective, unique quality to her presence as a stage artist. Somehow, Sloppy Jane has recreated that feeling, that thriving movement, on their latest album. A similar context to Madison’s recording as Jarv Is’ live set during lockdown. Or at least, a similar feeling and need to thrive in an unusual place. A cave-recorded album, taking in the beauty of echoes and the underground without having to deal with the unusual fear of being locked down in the depths. But that is to the strength of Sloppy Jane’s work here.
Taking to the depths of humid conditions, Madison’s unusual recording structure marks it as a unique technical piece. Almost immediately that cave-recorded effect can be felt. The shaking violins, the build and tense crash that makes itself present in Overture is delightful. It feels like a feature film soundtrack piece, a Tim Burton-like experience, which is meant in the nicest possible way. Lead singer Haley Dahl marks a religiously-infused album engaging with the touching effects of modernity. Party Anthem and Jesus and Your Living Room Floor muse on that well, with the two singles opening the album with great effect. From there, it is a rush for Madison, which revels in the challenge of cave art and recording unique ideas and sounds.
Unnerving lyrics mark Jesus and Your Living Room Floor as leagues above the usual album-promoting singles. Nothing radio-friendly here. Dark tones of children in crime scenes, murderous intent and distrust of faith. That latter moment, the distrust of faith and the slow ebb it can make is considered effectively and maturely with great consistency throughout Madison. Dahl’s lyricisms should and still could mark her out as one of the greats. Allegiance to faith, the dissection of it and the weighty tones that come from it are all experienced with a gifted understanding from Dahl and a band that surrounds and even embraces ideas that have been explored by many but understood by few. Dahl understands it. Lullaby Formica embraces that, Judy’s Bedroom rallies against it. There is great balance from Madison.
A treat of an album to discover, with the brass and string collection swirling around a phenomenal voice that treats itself to the Nick Cave variety of thematic ideas. Dahl has the range, Sloppy Jane has the talent, and Madison can outshine former band bass player Phoebe Bridgers’ solo efforts. Classical influences are fused into Madison, whether that is from its unique sound that feels both a truly individual experience but also one that incorporates the best of acoustic and string blends, or because its lyrical styles are entrenched in beauty and fear. Either way, Madison is one of the underappreciated hits of its time, a mesmerising approach to not just the process of recording but the need to feel faith and love, or at the very least to acknowledge the fear that comes along with it.