Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare
With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.
13 March 2020
How do we know what others think of us? How do really know that we truly understand each other? There is no real answer other than the cold, dark, hollow reply, "we don't know". Epistemology is the theory of knowledge; it questions everything we think we understand, every moment, every friend, every emotion. More than that epistemologists will question if we even can understand each other. We have no proof that when I look at the sky and see blue, you see the exact same color. When I express my sorrow, I have no true honest means of knowing you understand what I feel. The words I use to convey my emotion will abstract and obstruct it from its true nature and add another layer of unknowing, where I can be misconstrued. Not being understood and not knowing how to exist in relation to others is the torment infecting every corner on Porridge Radio's sophomore album. Every Bad is full of frustrated relationships steeped in misunderstanding and misanthropic confusion but the sentiments remain relatable and intimate.
Porridge Radio's debut of 2016, Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers, was an enticing introduction to the sound and themes which are fully realized on Every Bad. With their second album, there is an obvious progression in Mangolin's lyricism, but what makes the album so enticing is the precision with which music and lyrics are paired. Stark lyrics of our limitless mistakes and downfalls are laced with nuggets of humor and self-awareness that laughs in the face of unavoidable adversity. The delivery embraces a multitude of tones and timbres that beautifully and sincerely paint the picture of starved desire.
Margolin's rollercoaster of emotion slides between pitches swooning with eerie portamento ("Circling"), hushed whispered tones in strong but confused confidence ("Nephews" and "Pop Song"), and vociferously shouts out and cracks in wild desperation ("Long"). With the use of congruence and incongruence -- lyrics and music can mimic or contradict each other -- the most infectious pop melodies are coupled with the most cataclysmic and damning lyrics. I am now forever singing, "Thank you for leaving me, thank you for making me happy" the tongue-in-cheek refrain from the album's opener "Born Confused". The impact of the album shows a more adult sound comparable to a scorned more angst-ridden Soccer Mommy or Frankie Cosmos but with all the power and bite of Kim Gordon, Nick Cave, and Anna Calvi.
The vulnerability of struggling to know yourself and others is a key theme throughout Every Bad. But more than just a piece of "sadcore sadfishing", this album feels much more like a concept album. Each song is a three-minute chapter building a rich and alluring character profile. There is a gravity to each of these 11 songs. While you listen and piece together the profile of the lost misanthrope and their various ills, you cannot help but be drawn in. You want to know the narrator of each song; you want to befriend and know them. They are damaged, but they are desirable. Like a siren, they call you to the rocks, forcing you to acknowledge your destructive insatiable desire.
Central to the album is that very human feeling of want; want both in its modern and forgotten definitions. Want can be translated to needing something, excluding any ideas of preference or materialism. Lyrically this album blurs the lines of want. What is it we want and what is it that we need? The two are not quite so dichotomous. What we desire soon becomes, due to mental fixation, a self-imposed necessity that we often cannot gain. As Margolin sings, "I don't know what I want, but I know that I want" on "Don't Ask Me Twice", she defines our modern difficulty of feeling empty and the items, feelings, and people with which we fruitlessly try and fill the void. Our inability to satiate our wants because we don't understand them is punctuated by the lyric of "Give/Take": "You want 'til you get sore."
Margolin has said that this album is concerned with "figuring out how I want to exist in relation to others, and how to process my own feelings, how to be vulnerable, how to show people how I feel". Through beautifully crafted characters and stressful lyricism, Porridge Radio confidently and cathartically rubs salt into the open wound of existential angst. The relationships that these iconoclastic vignettes detail all concern a common emotional misunderstanding. But more than a simple misunderstanding, our real epistemological struggle in understanding emotion, how to convey it, and how to comprehend it. When Descartes posited 'I think therefore I am' this is complete agreement with Margolin's character; how can I understand anything past myself, and if I struggle to understand myself and my wants, how can I function?
Every Bad is fragile and robust, confidently flawed, and above all evidence that Porridge Radio is in their ascendancy. They are a real force to be reckoned with and a band with a strong chance of winning this year's Mercury Prize.