When Porridge Radio’s breakthrough album Every Bad came out in 2020, their dynamism was a focal point — the ability to crash from quiet to loud and back, the way Dana Margolin circled around the same phrase, repeating it over and over again until it reached a breaking point. The band exhibited catharsis to the point of excess, turned pure emotionality into something of an overbearing cosmic joke before swinging around again to genuine release.
“Back To The Radio,” the opening track and lead single from the Brighton group’s new album, is the Porridge Radio signature sound dialed up to an 11, a slow buildup that fractures into a splintering hook. “Lock all the windows and shut all the doors and get into the house and lie down on the cold, hard floor,” Margolin sings during the song’s climactic payoff, as instruments surge in and out of frame. “Talk back to the radio, think loud in the car/ I miss everything now, we’re worth nothing at all.” It’s the aural equivalent of the ah shit here we go again meme, an invitation back into the fold of messy, high-stakes melodramatic music that manages to feel both intimate and invigorating.
Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky doesn’t do too much to mess with the Porridge Radio formula. The band pushes everything a little further — the bursts are louder, the swells more magnetic, the quieter songs more vulnerable. It’s not a drastic departure from what made them worth paying attention to in the first place, but that’s not too surprising. The band has been at this longer than their recent rise in popularity might suggest. Margolin started writing songs in 2012 and expanded into a full band a couple years later. Their 2016 debut Rice, Pasta And Other Fillers had its fans, including an early cosign from none other than Frank Ocean. Though it was Every Bad that thrust Porridge Radio into the spotlight as an exciting new rock band, Margolin has had a decade to hone her songwriting skills, and the band has had nearly as much time to establish an identity for themselves. Their third album is a satisfying collection of clanging, clamorous songs that excavate one’s worst habits and turn them into something worth singing along to.
“Bad” is a word you’ll hear a lot throughout Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky. “The year the taste of apples changed and I did a bad thing,” she sings on one. “Jealousy, it makes me bad, but nothing makes me quite as sad as you,” goes another. Margolin often returns to the same ideas and imagery across her songs as she attempts to figure out why it feels like she always picks the wrong path forward, embracing pain instead of contentment, and she does so in evocative poetics. “You cut tomatoes, they’re soft to the touch/ When will you punish me for what I have done?” she asks on “Flowers.” “You cut straight through, fall apart in your hands/ If I am punished, I am free from the bad.” Or on the plainspoken “Rotten”: “Trying to walk on the balls of my feet/ It hurts, it hurts, my puny muscles ache/ Trying to sing away the rottenness/ You tell me I should go outside/ You say get as much rest as you need/ But you’d feel better if you ate the things that made you well.”
Her lyrics alternate between dreamlike surreality and simple life-or-death declarations. “I’m always playing solitaire/ I always kiss you on the lips/ And if I die then you can keep it/ I don’t want to feel a thing,” Margolin sings on the guttural “Birthday Party” before launching into a central refrain of “I don’t want to be loved” that stacks up into a formidable armor. “My body pushes it out/ Don’t cut me out,” she repeats on “Splintered,” a song that practically collapses in on itself with the desire to be rid of all the hurt. Margolin has one of the most expressive voices in contemporary indie rock — it crackles and breaks and gives a real sense to definition to even her most metaphysical musings — and she can find new wrinkles in every phrase that she gets stuck on.
Margolin and the rest of the band — drummer Sam Yardley, keyboardist Georgie Stott, and bassist Maddie Ryall — consistently discover engaging and fresh ways to express their communal abundance of feelings. “U Can Be Happy If U Want To” transcends into a cacophony of piano loops and roiling sky-scraping momentum, ending with most of the band shouting along with one another: “Back, and back, and back, and back again/ It hurts when I peel off my skin/ I don’t believe in anything,” they convene. “I had a dream you sang my song/ You always sing it wrong.” “End Of Last Year,” which Margolin described as “a love song for my bandmates and for myself,” starts off in a place of turmoil (“Do you remember when we all fell apart at the end of last year? I always break my own heart”) but finishes with uneasy compromise. Its concluding chorus of “you break everything you touch” sounds defeatist on the surface, but as Margolin repeats it, the words turns tender and smooth, like breaking something is the only way it can be fixed.
There a few more moments of decisiveness like that on Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky. Margolin described Porridge Radio’s last album as “an unfinished sentence,” and there are plenty of open-ends on their follow-up, but there’s also a larger sense of purpose. The band sound like they’re ready to push past and move on from the elliptical, unceasing nature of their thoughts. “No, I don’t want the end/ But I don’t want the beginning,” Margolin sings on the album’s closing track. There has to be some comfortable middle ground between empty nothingness and a fiery conclusion, and Porridge Radio are determined to find it.
Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky is out 5/20 on Secretly Canadian.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Harry Styles’ Harry’s House
• Cave In’s Heavy Pendulum
• Spice’s Viv
• Flume’s Palaces
• Mavis Staples & Levon Helm’s Carry Me Home
• Craig Finn’s A Legacy Of Rentals
• Robert Pollard’s Our Gaze
• Cola’s Deep In View
• Boldy James & Real Bad Man’s Killing Nothing
• Weird Nightmare’s self-titled debut
• Mary Lattimore & Paul Sukeena’s West Kensington
• Matmos’ Regards / Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer
• Blut Aus Nord’s Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses
• Lykke Li’s EYEYE
• Jordana’s Face The Wall
• SOAK’s If I Never Know You Like This Again
• fanclubwallet’s You Have Got To Be Kidding Me
• Everything Everything’s Raw Data Feel
• Delta Spirit’s One Is One
• Grant-Lee Phillips’ All That You Can Dream
• Joe Rainey’s Nineta
• Charlie Hickey’s Nervous At Night
• Marina Herlop’s Pripyat
• John Doe’s Fables In A Foreign Land
• David Grubbs & Jan St. Werner’s Translation From Unspecified
• Ravyn Lenae’s Hypnos
• Dean Spunt & John Wiese’s The Echoing Shell
• Dave Stewart’s Ebony McQueen
• Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Dirt Does Dylan
• Train’s AM Gold
• Hanson’s Red Blue Green
• mxmtoon’s rising
• Uffie’s Sunshine Factory
• Pond’s 9 deluxe edition
• Hodgy’s Entitled EP
• Shabaka’s Afrikan Culture EP