Rock Nacional is an Oakland, California band led by Argentinean-born singer/songwriter Maria Magliano. The band's debut Come Madness First is an alternative rock album with songs that range from “sweet, fingerpicking Sunday morning tunes to slap-you-in-the-face rock tunes.” Magliano describes the group’s sound and influence comes from bands like PJ Harvey, Queens of the Stone Age and Cat Power, to Mazzy Star, Led Zeppelin and even Nirvana. A unique aspect of Rock Nacional’s music is their use of choirs and back-up vocals, which got its roots in Magliano’s singing in choirs growing up in Buenos Aires.
The opening lyrics to “See Candy” seem to suggest that the “Candy” character is into dark schemes or simply has gotten herself into some deep trouble. Magliano sings those lyrics with a smooth, smoky and gorgeous voice which has a fabulous lower tone quality to it. The style of music is part goth, part dark alternative grunge – a great opener! I liked how some of the words to “The Stone and the Sea” rhymed with a triplet format (aka A-A-B, A-A-B in poetry lingo) and this song’s style is more acoustic and darker folk – very haunting. “I Let You Down” is about disappointing a lover and being blind to what was going on in the relationship – “babe you gave your love to me / all you got is misery / I let you down.” The style is sludgy, heavy and deep, tapping into the PJ Harvey/Mazzy Star influence.
In “Running Low” Magliano sings about a former lover who’s “love is a poisoned tree” and “is a haunted home / where crickets go quiet and rooms are full of ghosts, not of me.” Musically, it’s quiet, solemn and tender, and beautifully played. The low tribal drumming and droning guitars really added a lot – a favorite and sure to be played again and again. With “Cherry Pop” you’ll hear some provocative and sensual lyrics for sure. The band’s energy is great and some parts reminded me of PJ Harvey’s “Down by the Water” or perhaps something from Florence and the Machine. “Don’t Break Me (It’s Nothing)” has a nice acoustic vibe, sweet and mellow. The words suggest that one lover doesn’t want to see a relationship end and pleads with their beloved to “not break them in two” and hoping that they don’t “dream of that girl / much better than me.” The layering of vocals really made this tune stand out.
Fans familiar with Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged version of “My Girl” will be blown away by Magliano’s take of “Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night).” Sure, a few words are changed, but not much. Overall, I thought Magliano’s take on this number was hugely creative and unique. Explosively epic, she really makes this cover her own. It felt like she tapped into some classic Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath tune – I was pleasantly surprised. “Time for Love” has a crisp, clean sound and the words read like two lovers who are ready to give in to their desire for one another. Stylistically, the song sounds like a folksy love ballad from Heart or Fleetwood Mac. The words to “Just Do” suggests one lover giving in to the other because the love between them is so great. However, I’m assuming the line “If you want to crash my car / And just leave me dying / And go get ice cream / Just do” is metaphorical, not literal – because, that’s messed up. The song’s style gives the listener yet another side to Magliano’s wonderful talent.
“Penthesilea” offers passionate lyrics about love making, no doubt. The style and arrangement to this one is straightforward hard rock with plenty of epic guitar hooks and drum beats that tap into the spirit of Zeppelin. The last and longest song on the album is “Four Horsemen” – a reimagining of the epic end-of-the-world story based on the book of Revelation found in the Christian bible. The song is chilling with haunting backup vocals and a gothic-old world feel that truly gave me the creeps, but I mean that in a good way. And just when I thought Magliano’s voice couldn’t get any deeper – wow!– she has fabulous control of her voice.
To sum up, Come Madness First did not disappoint and I thought it offered many musical styles, making for one hell of a cohesive debut. I hope I can hear more from this gifted band and Maria Magliano very soon.
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