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Album Review: New Madrid – “Sunswimmer”

Athens, Georgia’s New Madrid recently released their sophomore album Sunswimmer on New West Records, and the confidently “out there” effort represents an intriguing step forward for the young band. Sunswimmer finds the group recording with producer extraordinaire David Barbe (Drive-By Truckers, Deerhunter, the Glands, REM) at his Chase Park Transduction studios in Athens for the first time. The pairing was an fruitful one as the record finds the band stretching its already loose and free-wheeling sound to the absolute limit (the last two songs clock in at a combined 23 1/2 minutes).

I know a lot of folks will be off put just reading the length of those songs, but both “Homesick” and “And She Smiles” meander quite nicely. It’s easy to get lost in the slow n’ purty guitar outros, especially if you’re sitting on a deck in the blazing sun, cold beer in hand with your mind slowly turning over Faulkner-esque ruminations on life, love and loss.

“Find My Blood”

The unrestrained nature of the record evokes in many ways what Athens is like in the summertime: hot, lazy and filled with guitar music come nightfall. You can imagine the band saying “Nah man… let’s just keep jammin” while they fleshed out these tunes. It makes sense that much of Sunswimmer was born while the band was on the road, something that is probably very responsible for the jammy feel of the album. Guitarist/vocalist Phil McGill recently told Paste, “The songs were heavily informed by the live setting, and were written while steadily running around the south playing shows in a variety of spaces.”

A couple of definite highlights of the record for me were lead single “Manners” and the eerie slow burner “Find My Blood”. The former caught Pitchfork’s eye earlier this year and features the rowdy and scorching guitar lines that the band is quickly making their trademark. The latter evokes feelings not unlike awaking up and being adrift on a float in a swimming pool the morning after a late night pool party. Your head hurts, you’re stoned and you’re asking yourself some questions about what exactly it is you’re doing in a pool in Normaltown by yourself at 8 in the morning. “Find my land, find my blood / Gotta get back to the place I love” McGill sings, and you can feel yourself adrift with him.

“Find My Blood” speaks to the band’s ability to slow down the “Crazy Horse-meets-Pavement-meets-The South” vibe they usually put out, and they do so incredibly well. It’s a gorgeous slow waltz of a number, and one that definitely brings to mind New Madrid’s former tour mates and fellow Athens band (and one of my favorite current bands), Futurebirds. Time will tell if New Madrid can match that group’s gradual rise to national prominence, but Sunswimmer is certainly a step in that direction.

Sunswimmer on Spotify (Click here for the Sunswimmer Rdio stream)

New Madrid’s live show is as rowdy and filled with all guitar-driven awesomeness you’d expect from a band that put out a record like Sunswimmer, check out their full list of tour dates below and go see for yourself. You can also check out coverage of New Madrid and several other bands from Savannah Stopover right here.

New Madrid 2014 tour dates:

Apr 23 Local 506 Chapel Hill, NC
Apr 24 The Evening Muse Charlotte, NC
May 09 Vinyl Atlanta, GA
May 10 Tropical Heatwave Music Festival Tampa, FL
Jun 13 Cutbait Music Festival Columbus, GA
Jul 05 US National White Water Center Charlotte, NC
Jul 09 Bottletree Cafe Birmingham, AL
Jul 10 116 Mobile Street Florence, AL
Jul 11 Proud Larry’s Oxford, MS
Jul 12 Martin’s Jackson, MS
Jul 13 Thirsty Hippo Hattiesburg, MS
Jul 15 Spanish Moon Baton Rouge, LA
Jul 16 Freret Street Publiq House New Orleans, LA
Jul 17 Fitzgerald’s Houston, TX
Jul 18 Holy Mountain Austin, TX
Jul 19 The Foundry Dallas, TX
Jul 23 Hodi’s Halfnote Fort Collins, CO
Jul 24 Underground Music Showcase Denver, CO
Jul 25 Loading Dock Salt Lake City, UT
Jul 26 Neurolux Boise, ID
Jul 27 The Palace Lounge Missoula, MT
Jul 29 Town Square Tavern Jackson, WY
Jul 31 Sunset Tavern Seattle, WA
Aug 01 Doug Fir Lounge Portland, OR
Aug 02 Milk Bar San Francisco, CA
Aug 04 Blue Lagoon Santa Cruz, CA
Aug 06 Soda Bar San Diego, CA
Aug 07 Federal Underground Long Beach, CA
Aug 08 The Satellite Los Angeles, CA
Aug 09 Satellite Los Angeles, CA
Oct 11 Mustang Music Festival Corolla, NC

Overall Album Rating:
Final Thoughts

Loose and ramshackle in all the right ways, overall a very nice record.

Overall Score 3.5