Athens, Georgia has a special pull in music history, especially towards the more underground-inclined music fans. While REM and the B-52s put the small college town on the map in the ’80s, successive generations have kept the creative fires burning: Drive-By Truckers, Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal, Dead Confederate, Vic Chesnutt, and dozens more have called Athens home. What’s most striking is the sheer diversity of sounds; country, rock, psychedelia, folk, and pop all mixed together in the Georgia heat.
New Madrid steps into this daunting legacy, but willfully. The band members moved to Athens from Tennessee and debuted in 2012 with Yardboat. For album number two, this year’s Sunswimmer, the quartet actively analyzed what they liked and disliked about that initial effort and applied it to their songwriting. The band members also all moved into a farmhouse outside Athens, and the resulting camaraderie shows up in their music. True to its name, Sunswimmer is a sun-damaged record with songs that gently unfold under waves of reverb and New Madrid’s country-inspired harmonies. There’s an almost telepathic control-and-release in the album’s spacier moments; the band knows when to hold back and when to let loose.
New Madrid truly lets loose on “Manners,” one of the highlights from Sunswimmer.Even with the buzzing guitars and driving rhythm, frontman Phil McGill is the calm at the center of the storm, content to use wordless sighs instead of concrete details. The song is something of an outlier in New Madrid’s discography so far, but it points to new directions to come.
Catch New Madrid on Friday, July 18 at Holy Mountain.