[19 May 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
New Madrid arrive fully formed on the Athens, Georgia, band’s second record, Sunswimmer. The album can’t be pigeon-holed into simply Southern rock, but it certainly owes something to the Southern steam for its sound. Rather than rely on traditions, New Madrid expands on them, and takes them in various fruitful directions. The gauzy, spread-out layers of “All Around the Locust (Out on the Pavement)” lay out a huge palate of sound as reverbed vocals and layered guitars weave with each other to create tight, braided textures. Meanwhile, “Manners” and “Forest Gum” take that spread-out sound and tighten it into a jangling propulsion.
The band achieves a surprising immediacy on songs that seem so lost in the past, in the future, in deep roots outside of the now. This combination of exploration and immediacy hits its height on “Homesick” and “And She Smiles”, the two closing tracks. The first is over 11 minutes, the second over 12, and despite the longer playing time, this might be the band at its most focused, expanding outward without going slack. The moody space of “Homesick” is a fascinating overcast counterpoint to the late-afternoon haze of the rest of the record, while “And She Smiles” builds from soft near-silence into the album’s tightest beat and leanest, most experimental guitar work. It feels both physical and fleeting. That New Madrid can pull off so many seeming opposites at once on Sunswimmer is impressive, but the fact that they’re housed in such striking, well-crafted songs, is what makes this album so strong.