Sloppy Jane
Madison


5.0
classic

Review

by Mathias CONTRIBUTOR (58 Reviews)
November 17th, 2021 | 43 replies


Release Date: 11/05/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A cavernous art-pop epic.

Sloppy Jane recorded Madison, a masterpiece of baroque art pop, in some creepy old cave with a creepy old piano and you can tell. Of course the mythos of going to a remote location to write an album is not anything new and is, if anything, almost to be expected at this point. For every time that an artist writes and records an emotionally raw album in some snowy Wisconsin cabin, there’s another artist that says they spent two weeks in the desert as a marketing ploy for an album that sounds like it came straight from some record exec's overly polished dreams. This isn’t meant to discount this geographic inspiration for artists and the depths they go to for their art, but isolation-chic has lost some of the mystique it once held. Sloppy Jane’s Madison is slightly different, as Haley Dahl, the singer, lyricist, and composer behind Sloppy Jane, didn’t live underground in a cave to write the album (although I wouldn’t put it past her), but the cave aesthetic is front and center - the phrase “Recorded in Lost World Caverns” is featured on prominently on the album art, as is the cavern itself. There are some very natural acoustics on display from the caverns, as the orchestral sounds featured across the album almost swell together in a very organic way. From the natural plops of waters, the almost subdued echo, and the natural sound, the caverns are an additional, integral instrument in the album.

Now I don’t want to place too much emphasis on the recording setting and make it appear as though this album is successful only because of a gimmick. If it had been recorded in a regular studio, it still would have had an incredibly innovative sound. However, the caverns are far more than a physical place where the music was recorded - They are also a physical manifestation of the sound that Sloppy Jane has created here. Madison is a mixture of baroque pop, art rock, classical music, and a dark twist on Broadway showtunes. Madison isn’t just a series of tracks - It’s an experience, meant to be listened to in the clearly thought out sequencing that it appears in. It reflects the cave setting that it exists in. There’s an awe-inspiring natural beauty throughout, but also dark shadows, places that we’re afraid to go but must go anyway in order to fully experience the depth of what is on offer. It’s a big, detailed record, created by 21 musicians and is nearly impossible to fully grasp on a single listen. New details will be revealed with every single exploration.

The opening “Overture” truly does sound like the overture for a twisted Rodgers & Hammerstein musical and is already a clear departure from the former art-punk stylings of Sloppy Jane. In case that departure wasn’t clear enough, “Party Anthem” arrives as a sweeping epic focused on the forgetting of traumas, with bouncing strings, a cacophony of explosive horns, a children’s chorus that is haunting while also being charming, and a mesmerizing vocal performance from Dahl that calls Kate Bush to mind. While Kate Bush, Fiona Apple, and artists of their ilk are certainly influences, it’s unfair to compare the work of Sloppy Jane to another band or artist. There are just as many similarities with The Beach Boys and Radiohead as there are the aforementioned artists, but those influences are just that - Influences, not derivations. Dahl has created something entirely her own. “Jesus and Your Living Room Floor” is an 8 minute, slow burner that begins as a piano not-quite-ballad that erupts in an orchestral arrangement that is genuinely anxiety inducing and terrifying, all while being majestic at the same time. The orchestral arrangements crafted throughout “Madison” are truly what make the album. There are a number of just instrumental pieces that work fully in the context of the album, with the Aaron Copland-esque “Wonderama” sounding like it should belong in a ballet, but instead falls between the lush indie rock of “Wilt” and the 9 minute “The Constable”, a fitting operatic pop finale.

While there is is a clear tie of themes between all of the songs, it’s not quite correct to say that Madison is a concept album. To again steal from the Broadway vernacular, it might more accurately be described as a song cycle - A collection of songs by a single composer that are all clearly linked together and meant to be performed together, but are all loosely connected by theme and sound as opposed to story. While this might just sound like a convoluted way to describe an album, the theatrical element cannot be understated. It explores the deepest corners of grief, trauma, and sorrow. “Judy’s Bedroom” does this through the story of Judy Bruce, and Bianco Castiofore does it through a non-lyrical piece that is inspired by a character from the Adventures of Tintin, and “Lullaby Formica” is a play on a number of different children’s lullabies. Three very different inspirations that are tied together through the artistry of Dahl’s compositions and, when applicable, lyrical prowess. These themes and sounds culminate in the nine-minute-epic “The Constable”, the finale of the album. Although technically not the final song, there is a strong sense of finality to it. There are numerous statements of goodbye, a variety of deaths are described, and the end of the world is described in gut-wrenching beauty. As the chaos and fear from humans of the world is described, our narrator is experiencing it in their own unique way:“Some took the seas, while others watched their TVs/Dying with dignity and grace/But I just ignored it, I sat on the doorstep/Of the house where you used to live”. The song then fades into a repeated countdown and cheer of “Happy New Year” for over a minute, implying that this end could also be a brand new beginning, perhaps the most, and potentially only, optimistic message to be found across this 49 seconds.

That implication is made even stronger by the fact that “The Constable”, clearly set as the finale of the album, isn’t actually the final song. Sloppy Jane instead leaves us with an acoustic “Epilogue”. It brings together many of the earlier themes from the album, focusing largely on Dahl feeling as though she is a burden. There is really no feeling of relief or catharsis from the darkness of the album. If anything, “Epilogue” hammers those feelings in. The message that ties Madison together seems to be, simply, that bad things happen to people. There’s no “but” or “and” after that statement, just that bleak truth. But Haley Dahl and the other members of Sloppy Jane have put together that message in such a vast and dazzling package that it takes that unfortunate truth of life and makes it dark and sometimes exhausting to trek through, but also a beautiful thing to experience and makes us reflect on our own humanity - Rather like exploring a cave.



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user ratings (30)
3.5
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
November 17th 2021


1647 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Absolutely my Album of the Year. Absolutely shocked this hasn't gotten more recognition. It was released on Phoebe Bridgers new label (Phoebe used to place bass in the band when they were more punk).



I've been trying to write this review for a week but it's been difficult to put to words the experience this album puts me through. With that being said, feedback is definitely welcome!

Ashtiel
November 17th 2021


1296 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Willow was a wonderful curiosity after stumbling upon Sloppy Jane back in 2018 and it's absolutely staggering how much she's grown between these two projects, even if they're completely different sonically but probably tackle similar-ish themes lyrically.

i'm only two listens deep into the album right now, but i think you absolutely sum up what makes Madison such an interesting and at times captivating listen.

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
November 17th 2021


3887 Comments


Oh man, really great review. Didn't even reach the third para before deciding to put this on. Excited.

fogza
November 17th 2021


4148 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Something about this reminds me alot of Amanda Palmer

Digging: Tusks - Dissolve

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
November 17th 2021


16250 Comments


Now that’s a band name

Digging: Krallice - Crystalline Exhaustion

DoofDoof
November 17th 2021


10942 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

We all know one

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
November 17th 2021


22411 Comments


I saw this band live without knowing who they were and it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. They are /insane/ live. That said, wasn't super huge into any of the material that I heard from this. The concept is kinda perfectly pitched between lame PR shit (especially cuz the NYT put out a puff piece and THEN a "how I got to write this puff piece" puff piece) and total, and totally insane, artistic dedication

fogza
November 17th 2021


4148 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Listened to this a few times today and I feel like it should make me more uncomfortable, or something from this should really land like a ton of bricks. That hasn't happened though.

Gyromania
November 17th 2021


33459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

kind of getting some soap and skin vibes from this. seems like the reception to this is pretty weak but i'm enjoying it quite a bit atm. jesus and your living room floor was a stunner

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
November 17th 2021


22411 Comments


never thought I'd see sloppy Jane 5 sput review lol. if you're in London or wherever tf they are now, SEE THEM!

Gyromania
November 17th 2021


33459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i rly want to get out to more shows but sadly i live in windsor ontario and not much happens around here. maybe toronto but fuck that it's like a 6 hr drive

Slex
November 17th 2021


12768 Comments


A Dmat 5???? had my whole catch up day planned out already but this is now going on first

Digging: Cloakroom - Dissolution Wave

GreyShadow
November 17th 2021


5557 Comments


wow this sounds like it was recorded in a cave

Digging: Owel - The Salt Water Well

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
November 17th 2021


1647 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I knew this would be a polarizing album but dang that rating spread is wild (even if it is only 9 ratings). I 100% get the criticisms. I think this is one that will either work for people or won’t at all

I’ve heard their live shows are supposed to be wild. I’ll be honest, I haven’t checked much of her early stuff until I found this one. It’s such an interesting progression

GreyShadow
November 17th 2021


5557 Comments


lmao i kid, but i tried the singles when this came out and idk something about her voice isn't doing it for me here. i remember liking some of her earlier releases more considering i already had her liked on social media platforms but i'm gonna have to double check that now lol. i want to because this is definitely quite the intriguing project but idk if i'll get to a full listen of this

GreyShadow
November 17th 2021


5557 Comments


doubleeeeeeeeeeee

Feather
November 17th 2021


7737 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I like the cool recording idea behind this, but it is just not grabbing me. I am about halfway through. It is fine background music ... not much else.

Sowing
Moderator
November 17th 2021


40056 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Oh hell yes, this sounds like exactly my sort of thing. Will check ASAP. Awesome review btw, glad to see you writing again.

Digging: Domestic Terminal - I Could See Midnight Sky

Sowing
Moderator
November 17th 2021


40056 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Only 2 songs in and I already love this thing to pieces

Gyromania
November 17th 2021


33459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is excellent. Just played it twice in a row



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