Release Date: September 9, 2022 Genre: Folk Rock, Folk, Alternative Rock
Label: Verve Forecast Records The California-based two-time Grammy nominee Madison Cunningham is back with her third full-length studio album, Revealer. Cunningham's newest effort follows a binding theme of revealment. Showcasing eleven tracks that Cunningham wrote full of confessions, intimations, contradictions, and hard truths. The album paints a self-portrait of a young up-and-coming artist who is full of doubt and uncertainty yet is overflowing with exciting ideas about her music and life. "I didn't feel like there was any one phrase or song title that necessarily embodied the whole thing because there's so many different twists and turns," Madison shares. "I pictured the 'revealer' to be a character that is not positive or negative, but it's a thing that is actively shedding light on who you are as a person and what's happening inside. And I find that the revealer is just grief. Just the name for that, or any set of emotions that actually turns you in front of yourself and forces you to work at difficult things about yourself."
Revealer wasn't recorded in one single studio but in various studios in Portland, Nashville, and Los Angeles. Once again, on Revealer, Cunningham recruited longtime producer and collaborator Tyler Chester (Sara Bareilles, Andrew Bird). Additionally, producers Tucker Martine (First Aid Kit, The Decemberists) and Mike Elizondo (Twenty One Pilots, Ed Sheeran, Gary Clark Jr.) lent their aptitudes to the project. Madison Cunningham's fresh eleven tracks feature wildly raw, candid, and self-reflectively lyricism that tackles a range of topics that are confessional in nature. The album opener, "All I've Ever Known," is a song about feeling alone when your worldview changes and not knowing how to explain it to your loved ones or to yourself. "Hospital" was written from the perspective of being half awake, slightly drunk, and on the cusp of a nervous breakdown about the impossible condition of being sedated with information and trying to hold onto your sanity. "Anywhere" is about the inner dialogue you have with a person when they're not there, saying all the things you would say if you could. Additionally, it's about the combusting madness that comes with letting people's opinions of you hold too much weight. The album-closing track, "Sara and The Silent Crowd," is a song about feeling like you're losing sight of what is important for what you thought was the right thing.
Some of the darker tracks on Revealer touch on personal loss, frustration and determination, such as "Your Hate Could Power A Train," which speaks about an unidentified controlling ex-partner. Or even "You Are You Now," which is a track that talks about the ending of a friendship. The tune also ties into the fact that everything in life is constantly changing. However, one of the album's most raw and emotional tracks is "Life According To Raechel," which tackles the grief of losing her grandmother. It was a track Cunningham was deeply afraid to record. "This song isn't about me. It's about her," Madison reflects. "I wanted to pay tribute to her in the most respectful way. There was a time and space where it was right to record that song and to tamper with it would have taken the pain out of it. The imperfection of actually losing someone and how clumsy people get around those feelings. I had to reconcile that this song will never feel done to me because this feeling will never be resolved," she continues. Cunningham, while first recording "Life According To Raechel," had a lot of trouble with her vocal takes. "That was my own perfectionist mentality, which can be dangerous, especially for a song like that. If I went in and gotten in there and auto-tuned anything, it would have taken away from the imperfect feeling that grief is," she woefully shares.
"I'm 25, and I feel the youngest I ever have in my life. I think that's what happens. The more you age, the younger you must feel. Maybe not physically, but mentally, I have no idea where to begin sometimes," Cunningham confesses. Revealer undoubtedly is a record for all age groups. Juxtaposed with the album's theme and lyricism, it's endlessly relatable to many listeners and tackles quote "the messiest parts of life." While they are pulled from Cunningham's personal experiences- it certainly touches on feelings everyone has, will, or is going to go through at some point in their life. These eleven tracks, as aforementioned, tackle many topics, such as personal loss and frustration. Additionally, it tackles societal norms, aging, and the anxiety and depression that comes with it all. It will strike everyone at some point in life, and she wanted to capsulate that on Revealer. "It's so weird to think about how young my parents were when I was asking them big existential questions. And the answers, when I think about that. My mom was 22 when she had me, and thinking about it, my mom was probably 26 or 27 when I started having fears about life or 'what happens when you die?' and all those things. My mom had to give an answer, rather it was an answer or not. Being the age I am now, being 25 and figuring out the world or realizing I don't know how to figure it out. It's this interesting balance of sympathy for them and, honestly, for all of us. The more you know, the less you know," she continues. So with Revealer, Cunningham wanted to challenge herself and write an emphatic, self-reflective album -relatable to pretty much anyone. Overall, Revealer is an album with a purpose and is on a much grander scale -and she knows it too. Part of the intention of Revealer is to strike up conversations with yourself or with others about these difficult topics about life and how you can face them head-on, and even find a way to find an answer for yourself. Not everything in the world has an answer, and she wanted to convey that in her music. "I wanted to hug all those questions and be like, 'I don't intend to give an answer here because I don't know if there is one.' All we have is dialogue, all we have is conversation, and if that's what this record could be, I'm here for it. That's what I want. I desire conversations like that with all age groups. We are all pretending to be adults, entering a world that literally we're just told we have to accept. I don't think that's true, I don't think we have to accept it, but I do think there are certain things we can't help but accept, like death, aging, loss, anxiety, and depression -all of these human things we have to go through. That's all we are going to know about adulthood, is how to learn on the fly," she admits. Sonically, Revealer is a push forward for Cunningham. These tracks take a slight deviation into various new sub-genres in her songwriting. Her older material was best described as traditional folk or even Americana, whereas the eleven tracks on Revealer expand upon her stylistic boundaries with tracks that delve into the unique blend of pop-infused folk, folk-rock, and blatant alternative rock. "I based all the sonic choices off of what the songs were trying to emote," Cunningham divulges. You have vocal interplay on "All I've Ever Known," vocal imperfections on "Life According to Raechel," and even a drum machine on "Collider Particles." Additionally, a good chunk of the album is pretty progressive -or experimental to better describe it- with various key changes and tempo changes mid-song -best example of this is on "Sunshine Over The Counter." She continues saying, "A lot of the time, the music is doing the 'Truman Show thing,' where there's nothing to see here, but if you actually listen to the lyrics, it's speaking about feeling depressed or anxious, or all those things." Revealer also features a lot of various string arrangements placed into the background of most of its songs, adding intricate sonic layers to the overall sound. "I wanted the music to feel like a playground. I wanted it to satisfy people's sweet tooths," she shares. While trying to find the best way to describe the album further in my own words after my initial listen, I simply wrote down one word: Wise. Ironically, it all came together that I'd describe Revealer as wise and mature, yet convoluted, in a sense, when she was asked, "What fictional character would identify with your sound?" That's when Cunningham said, "I'm going to go with Gandalf from Lord of the Rings." When it comes down to what Cunningham wants people to take away from Revealer, she concluded by sharing, "I hope Revealer makes people excited about the possibility of music making. I hope it sheds a different light on what can be done sonically. I hope people on a personal level find it relatable. I hope it's a conversation starter. That's what I really hope." Be sure to stream or purchase Revealer now and check out her recent NPR Tiny Desk concert here.