Porridge Radio’s Every Bad is Pixies-inspired indie rock, a fairly common combination, perhaps more so in the 1990s than today. But what makes Every Bad different is Dana Margolin’s voice, which has an intensity that often feels like it’s bypassing your ears and jacking directly into your nervous system. The power is mirrored in the lyrics, which similarly find their way straight to the heart of the song, like emotion-seeking, rocket-fueled haiku.
Margolin swirls all of these talents and influences together in an interesting way. Her sound pulls from bands known for a certain amount of emotional withholding. If we consider Morrissey for a moment, which I try to do every day, the model is incredibly personal lyrics delivered with a flat affect. Margolin delivers incredibly personal lyrics that are also efficient. I’ve never stopped to consider just how much passion could come from a telegram, but now that I’m musing on it, I now know it can be quite a bit. And on top of all of this, you have her voice, with the de rigueur alt echo and British accent (although, in defense of Margolin, she’s from Brighton), but with a raw honesty that feels pulled from folk music.
So in “Born Confused,” Margolin repeatedly sings “Thank you for leaving me / Thank you for making me happy,” eleven dark words, eight of them unique, that are somehow dark yet optimistic, but also immediately relatable. The ambiguity of the lyric makes it even more personal, since the listener can more easily project their own experiences onto it. Is Margolin thanking someone who left her for the times of happiness they had together? Or is she grateful now that they’re gone? The song doesn’t provide answers but the search is the fun.
The performance is just as interesting. Margolin’s voice doesn’t have a ton of range and she works in a lower register. Because she’s not a typical singer, when she screams and fights her way through songs, it’s even more compelling, because it’s like you’re overhearing a regular person, rather than having someone perform for you. It also aims the lyrics. So something like “Thank you for leaving me / Thank you for making me happy” is given shape. In this case it’s anger and betrayal. The song, and album, works because all the variables are so dependent upon each other.
The tracks are also surprisingly expansive for the genre. Many are closer to five minutes than the more standard three-minutes. The song length allows tracks to unfurl in a much more relaxed manner. “Pop Song,” is a pretty ballad with chiming guitar that builds, ever so subtlely. It’s not like Led Zeppelin building to bombast, but more like an upset person trying to get a story out. And the payout of Porridge Radio’s tale of no-longer-requited love is Margolin’s begging final refrain, “Please make me feel safe.”
Another interesting dimension to the album is Maria Marzaioli’s violin, which often gives the songs an unexpected Celtic feel. “Lilac,” with its acoustic strums and Marzailoli’s fiddle, could, for surprisingly long swaths of the song, work for lots of Americana acts. Of course, with Porridge Radio the sound is usually washed away by waves of loud, dirty guitar, a la Pixies, but the presence of violin is yet another incongruity that makes the album so rich.
It’s easy and accurate to call Margolin a strong songwriter and performer. But what makes Every Bad special is the way in which it all sounds so familiar, like other bands and songs, but, as your ear tries to pin things down, ultimately like nothing else. For that reason, Every Bad might be most like the work of painter Georges Seurat, the noted Pointillist. From a distance, it’s one lovely thing but the true beauty is in the small details that comprise the larger piece.
review by Steven Ovadia
Every Bad by Porridge Radio is now available via Secretly Canadian