Madeline Polley, also known as Madeline Usher, is a musician who currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She recently released an EP entitled Phantoms. I was looking at the cover art and the gothic appearance was an indicator this was going to be a darker release. it is but it also can be beautiful as well.
I really liked her voice. She has the kind of the voice that I think could work in a number of genres. That being said, it sounds especially good covered and melancholy. I normally pull away from vocals that are going for a dramatic effect but she really pulls it off. Her vocals are dramatic and emotive but not melodramatic. There is a sincerity that resonated with me.
“His Phantoms” is the opener and the song combines darker ’80s sounding synths with a drum machine. The tone is fairly close to bands like The Chromatics but perhaps a little darker. I would say the synths sound a bit like the synths you hear on the TV series Stranger Things. She shows some range to vocals on lines like “I see you everywhere / I feel your bones under my skin / I’m not done / Mourning you.” I could argue this is the catchiest tune on the album.
“Deepest Shade of Blue” is a slow burn and might be the highlight. The music here combines ominous pads and other more striking synths that create an ever evolving soundscape. Her vocals sound good here. I was reminded of Zola Jesus at points.
“Birdland” is a little more upbeat. There is a constant 4/4 kick drum but it lays relatively low in the mix. The synths are more upfront in the mix along with her vocals. Her lyrics fit the mood here which seems to be about loss. She sings, “I'm still haunted / By the ghost of you / Maybe in heaven / I’ll meet you there.” The closing song “Bonus Track - His Phantoms” is strummed on guitar and I wasn’t expecting that. It was a nice surprise.
As an engineer myself I would say she did a good job with these recordings. I would say the next logical step might be to work with an engineer to really hone in on the song she is going for.
This is a good EP that is heartfelt and sincere. Take a listen.
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