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The Lead Review

Anna Wood on Madonnatron's Madonnatron
Anna Wood , August 3rd, 2017 08:29

The debut album from four south Londoners who are funny, louche and know how to make a proper filthy racket.

What is it about witches? They're so appealing, perhaps especially when the world's rational, post-enlightenment facade really begins to show its cracks. Not to mention the ongoing tedium (at best) of the patriarchy. Witches are fun, and powerful, and sexy. Witches are magic. Madonnatron are described, by their producer Liam May, as “psychedelic witch prog”, which doesn't do justice to the swirling punk and disco here, or the good old rock & roll, but it's a good start.

From first song (and lead single) 'Headless Children', we are inside an unsettling and catchy album. The bass and the synth make you dance, the vocals are murky, half-buried, and you can't quite tell where the voice is coming from. You strain to hear and you might catch something like “tears in the eyes of your lover” (on 'Tron') or “life expectancy” ('Wedding Song') or “take them to the river, maybe to drown” ('Headless Children'). The lyrics are poking up from dark recesses, making you lean in close so they can lick your ear, or belch in it, or just give you the creeps.

There's a motley line-up of women's roles across the album - mother, lover, wife, groupie, cat lady - and they are dealt with, one-by-one, with various degrees of glee, sass, murk and gothic-disco-rock-&-roll aplomb. On 'Glenn Closer' they are demented fans; they sing, “Your place or mine, boy, I'll boil your bunny anytime,” and they make the cliche funny, then update it with Facebook stalking, and it's seductive but daft, demure like Annie Wilkes. 'Be My Bitch' is funny too, although you know they're not really joking, and so it's also sexy and a bit scary. What a combination. Their invitation/demand heads into a frenzy, with spooky croony backing vocals, rums going batshit and 'arOOOOOO-yeah's getting louder and screechier, organs getting faster.

'Mother's Funeral' is zippy and cheery, full of glee. Your unconscious is attacking you with a nightmarish playground taunt - 'You never went to your mother's funeral!' - and there are those half-drowned vocals in the mix again. There's rock & roll organs, knee trembling and hip swinging, a lumbering horror-film beat. It is grotesque and manic, it has that old-fashioned, sticky postwar Englishness of fairgrounds and paedophiles. Second single 'Tron', though, is The Go-Go's playing with The Cramps. They're singing in the round, with incantations and layers, there's a chiming alarm on the guitar, sex and witchery. Dizzying and unsettling, carnal and viscous, with a steady thud on drums.

Madonnatron have been going for a couple of years, after forming apparently quite haphazardly at venues and nights including Hank Dog's Easycome in Peckham and (of course) The Windmill in Brixton. When Liam May at Trashmouth first talked about making an album, they told him, “We only have five songs and we can't really play.” Lias Saoudi from Fat White Family has described their early gigs as “like listening to a kitchen falling apart in an earthquake,” and when I saw them last year they were still pleasingly shonky. They haven't become polished professionals since then, thank god. They are winging it. It is great, almost a rock & roll cliche joy, to have a bunch of chancers making music as good as this, especially when it's a gang of women who are clearly having a brilliant time.

All of a piece, the songs on this album belong together. Madonnatron are in the right place, too, signed to Trashmouth and produced by Liam May (who also worked on the submerged-unconscious vocals of Fat White Family's Songs For Our Mothers), and based in south London, part of a sprawling gang that includes Fat White Family, The Moonlandingz, No Friendz and Meatraffle. Like a lot of that gang, they are funny and deadly serious, chaotic and fully focussed, and making ace records.