Emotions are not absolute. Interpreting your own while trying to navigate the emotions of others is one of the hardest parts of being a human. The things we want and need are always changing, and trying to communicate that to other people often leads to confusion or frustration. Plus, when you’re battling your own demons, it makes things even harder. How do we make things better and dig ourselves out of a hole—especially if we don’t see the hole or if that hole has become comfortable?
Brighton, U.K. quartet Porridge Radio grapple with these questions on their new album Every Bad. It’s their first LP since signing with Secretly Canadian, and it follows their 2016 self-recorded debut Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers. Despite it being their first studio record, there isn’t a dramatic evolution here: Lead singer Dana Margolin’s signature languorous vocal delivery, laugh-out-loud humor (“And I was like, mum, no please it’s grunge”) and biting truths (“I’m sorry that I told you that I think you suck”) were all in place, even four years ago.
While it’s technically correct to dub Every Bad the band’s breakthrough album, that doesn’t give enough credit to their first LP, whose deeply dark ruminations and gnarled indie rock songs had an unusually nuanced emotional framework and an entrancing presence. On one hand, Margolin has the reckless abandon of someone yelling in a performance art piece (“Isaac Newton was a virgin!” she screams on “And I Was Like”), but she was backed by chiming, ramshackle guitars that you’d hear at an indie disco. This was a fledgling band who already had something very special.
Fast forward to their new album Every Bad, whose first two singles “Lilac” and “Sweet” must’ve taken those previously unfamiliar with the band by surprise. They’re easily two of the strongest rock tracks of the past few years thanks to an explosive tension that’s hard to capture once, much less twice. “Lilac” is one of the punkiest things they’ve done so far, but it’s also coupled with tense strings, which help the song reach a boiling point so invigorating you might have to sit in silence for a few minutes after it ends. “I don’t want to get bitter / I want us to get better / I want us to be kinder / To ourselves and to each other,” Margolin howls. She depicts this simple line, which is hammered relentlessly, as the end-all-be-all of humanity. Like all of us, Margolin often falls short of this ideal, and it plagues her throughout the album.
Repetition is key to Every Bad. On lead track “Born Confused,” Margolin endlessly chants “Thank you for leaving me / Thank you for making me happy,” and it’s the first of many tidbits of blinding maturity on this album. “You will like me when you meet me” from “Sweet” is another mantra, delivered in Margolin’s sinister tone, and it comes after acknowledging several personal flaws. This kind of not-so-rosy romantic sentiment feels so essential right now, and Porridge Radio are masters of it.
Porridge Radio’s effective use of varied tempos, tones and levels of aggression is what makes their indie rock songs stand high above their peers. There’s a punk-ish, reverb-filled fury in the middle of “Don’t Ask Me Twice,” before the song’s relaxed conclusion. Not only do they channel emotions that change from minute to minute, but their songs are never stagnant either.
They might not be able to get away with such pummeling seriousness and instrumental intrigue if it wasn’t also aided by moments of charm and sheer magnetism. One such moment is the brutal, backwards outro of “Lilac” that bleeds into “Circling.” “Lilac” could hardly have a more fiery ending, but when “Circling” opens with light-hearted, nautical keys, it’s easy to grin and remember that everything is going to be okay (even if it is a song about how hiding away is sometimes necessary). Though spooky, Margolin’s voice is strangely easy to trust, and it cuts through the bleakness that she experiences in abundance.
Through scratchy indie rock (“Don’t Ask Me Twice,” “Give/Take”), grand punk (“Lilac”) and even auto-tuned pop (“Something”), Porridge Radio take pop songs much further than listeners might’ve thought possible. They want us to know that it’s okay to not have all the answers, and it’s okay to feel contradictory emotions. They shout repeated lines like they’re therapeutically screaming into the void, but surprisingly, listening to it is just as therapeutic. It’s one thing for a band to capture a world in chaos, but it’s much more difficult to accurately capture a mind in chaos—Porridge Radio make it look like a cakewalk. Every Bad is the nuanced album that indie rock has needed for years.