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Porridge Radio
Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky Ed Power , May 23rd, 2022 09:15

Porridge Radio seem to be able to twist even the most prosaic of influences into something uncanny and unnerving, finds Ed Power

Coldplay and Deftones are among the stadium-bestriding influences Porridge Radio’s Dana Margolin has cited for her band's much-anticipated new album. But the record's unique innovation is to take these familiar components – firecracker guitars, choruses that flutter gamely in the breeze – and to give them a body-horror twist, resulting in a project that feels simultaneously uplifting and unmooring. It’s like going to a rom-com at the cinema and realising half way in that the director has inserted ghostly images into every frame. A lark of an afternoon is all of a sudden filled with dread.

This is a testament to Margolin's gifts as songwriter and lyricist. But also to the uneasy cadences that she injects into her outwardly rhapsodic compositions. A whole new level of pathos is, for instance, conjured when her voice suddenly cracks as she delivers the line “I was in your dream last night … I came to tell your everything” at the start of ‘U Can Be Happy If U Want To’. A big booming hook comes barrelling in shortly afterwards – and yet it’s that hair-line fracture vocal that stays with you.

Margolin says that Porridge Radio began largely by accident. She was living in Brighton, holding down a day job when, as a distraction from the fug of everyday life, she and some friends started putting on gigs. And then, in March 2020, a part-time affair became more serious as the album Every Bad heralded the arrival of a singular new voice – wise and brittle, confident and vulnerable – in British indie.

But of course March 2020 has gone down in infamy for reasons that have little to do with singular new voices in British indie. And as the pandemic came roaring through, so Porridge Radio were packed off to an uneasy hibernation, left to their own devices when they ought to have been bringing their music to the masses.

In that context, it is tempting to regard Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky as a quintessential post-lockdown LP. It is often ecstatic (‘Back To The Radio’ features a chiming riff that rushes towards the light like shutters flung back on a clear day). However, in its veins it swirls with dread and ambivalence, as made clear when Margolin intones “I don’t want to be loved” fifty-seven times on ‘Birthday Party’ (a flourish that has already become one of the release’s talking points).

The dark alchemy of Waterslide – named after one of the art-pieces Margolin painted during lockdown – ultimately flows from the manner in which it slithers under the skin even as it engages with that part of your monkey brain that enjoys a zinging pop song. “My body is made of wood and stone / it can rot and it can burn,” she intones on ‘Back to the Radio’, holding up her glistening inner traumas in the uneasy daylight. As with much else here, the moment is beautiful and ugly and extraordinary