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Album Review: The Madness by Claire Grayson

Claire Grayson’s first studio release finds her moving in bold new directions.

By Zach Collier

Claire Grayson has entitled her first official studio release The Madness. Her previous release, a collection of home recordings called the Low Ceilings EP, found Claire’s sultry voice crooning heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics over folky acoustic guitar, upright bass, and western-style whistles. Lo-fi and quaint, Claire’s offering was distinctly her: cute, soulful, and passionate.

Album art from The Madness EP.

The Madness EP takes her sound in an entirely different direction, trading in acoustic guitar for electric; upright bass for sub bass synth; whistles for beautifully engineered beats – courtesy of Eric Robertson of Pleasant Pictures. The result is beautifully mature, establishing Claire as an indie pop diva with insight far beyond her years.

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“Hold Your Fire,” opens with Claire pleading for a merciful end as a rumbling synth bass growls from the depths. Claire’s voice is a dead ringer for MisterWives lead singer Mandy Lee’s. Seriously. Don’t believe me? Listen to the first forty-five seconds of “Reflections” right now. And that’s not a bad thing by any means. Claire’s voice demonstrates incredible vocal control, slipping in and out of her chest voice with coy cracks, lending an air of timidity to her otherwise confident voice.

The production on this track is St. Vincent seriousness interwoven with the sonic space and summery guitars of Chillwave artists Teen Daze (especially at 1:33 of “Hold Your Fire”). The moods in this song shift constantly. The first minute evokes feelings of pitiful, pleading optimism. 1:03 – 1:32 is all incredulous accusation and condemnation. 1:33 – 2:33 is a confident, hopeful, jubilant build that eventually returns to the painful cynicism of 1:03 for 2:34 to the end. Every change takes you by surprise. This is a strong opening track.

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“Nobody Wants Me” is more in line with Claire’s earlier work. Guitar heavy, this lilting gem puts Claire’s brassy voice front and center. In her signature lyrical style, Claire spouts melodramatic lyrics like, “Nobody wants me, nobody wants me // I’m just gonna lie here and bleed.” Claire delivers it passionately. She means it. What’s so wonderful about Claire is the way she presents her deepest fears and disappointments. On paper, the lyrics would be utterly depressing. But set to music, they become deeply personal and matter-of fact, as if Claire was objectively examining her life and looking on the bright side of all the negatives. If I were to choose two words to describe this song, I’d choose bittersweet ambivalence.

Claire closes with the title track of the EP. “The Madness” is upbeat and fun – a delightfully awkward mix of chugging guitar in a similar vein to The Proclaimer’s “I Would Walk 500 Miles;” Van Halen “Jump” – styled synth flourishes; and sugary modern monophonic dance synth. It’s a fun ride. My only reservation with this track is that I don’t feel that the key change hit hard enough, but the last forty seconds make up for it.

Overall, this is a satisfying release. Very satisfying. So satisfying, in fact, that it warrants repeat listens. The Madness EP showcases Claire’s powerful indie pop voice while simultaneously welcoming us into her most intimate thoughts and feelings. Let’s hope Claire returns from the Seattle area to grace us with a show soon. Listen to The Madness EP on Spotify here.

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