The music scene surrounding the Brooklyn, New York area has thrived for some time on the willingness of its exports to embrace signature styles, explore sound, and upend traditional expectations with lineups outside the norm or else set apart thanks to particularly unique talents they promote. Madam West has an opportunity to be ranked among the best groups to emerge from this music enclave and much of their potential for excellence can be pinned on their fine compositions and the presence of frontwoman Sophie Chernin’s singing talents. The band tackles some pretty adult subject matter from a relatively sophisticated and certainly mature point of view, but Chernin makes wrestling with the implications of these songs a thoroughly enjoyable task. Her cohorts and musical partners may not get the same amount of attention their lead singer does, but they certainly should – the sonic landscapes served up here are as fully realized as the collection’s lyrical content and rendered with superb production highlighting its many strengths.
Those strengths just roll out, one song after another, and will leave even the most experienced music consumer mildly astonished by what they’ve heard. The group may, occasionally, be guilty of bringing too many musical ideas to the table in one piece, but their penchant for idiosyncratic structures and sounds that, nonetheless, never sound unfamiliar is one of their biggest merits as an unit. Few songs make that more apparent than the EP opener “Strongest Son”. Vocalist Sophie Chernin conjures some breathy atmospherics with her voice that never present problems with her emoting or phrasing – in fact, it brings an aura of the unusual and individual to these songs that they might have otherwise lacked. The post production on her voice during the title song makes her impact a little more diffuse than some might like, especially after such a winning opener, but the overall package for this song is outstanding. The guitar work, especially, is geared to impress and works well with the rhythm section and electronic instruments alike. The synthesizers and keyboards on “Erstwhille Maanatee” are superb, but the drumming for this song is what gives the track its spine and helps it stand upright rather than streaking past listeners in a hallucinatory haze of sound.
“Seams” opens prepared to embrace the same dominance of synths and keyboards we’ve heard elsewhere, but the brief introduction soon transforms into a stark, guitar laced, stomp with a number of powerful transitions built into the song and another evocative Chernin vocal. The emotional tenor of this song is much darker than anything else we’ve came across so far with this release. It will remain so. The finale “Wise Blood” embraces some of the funk and neo-soul influences in the band’s sound while varying the tempo at key points in the recording and striking an almost stately, progressive sound during other passages. It’s a wildly compelling mix of sound. It’s moments like this that help Madam West stand out from the rest of the pack in a time when press and audience attention is at a premium for bands looking to establish themselves. Warm Bodies is just the release Madam West needs at this time and freshens up their set with some powerful new tunes.