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With her latest album, Uma Bloo’s Molly Madden is trying to trick herself. Due March 23rd via Earth Libraries, Don’t Drive Into the Smoke encapsulates a core of intense grief within layers of more familiar love and heartbreak. By opening her explorations in the form of immaculately layered indie rock epic, the Chicago-based artist and the listener can face the depths of pain together. “It’s about needing love so bad, getting shards of it here and there, and then watching yourself from above as you spill all over the place,” she says. “Love and lust are great deceivers, fantastic distractions from getting to the heart of the pain.” 


From roiling opener “Never Know Me” onward, Uma Bloo tap into Nico-vintage art rock, Madden’s resonant vocals perfectly matched to the fearless emotionality. The track’s refusal to be sexualized is a stunning rebuke, especially in its linguistic simplicity. “But when I speak you just watch my mouth move/ Wonder what else it might do,” she cries out. “You’ll never know me.”


Throughout, Madden’s poetic lyrics pick at the vagaries and frustrations of mismatched relationships and interpersonal malfunctions--but the physicality of the compositions and her ranging vocals prove just as effective. Her pops of breathy exasperation and flourishes of falsetto on the waltzing early single “Marguerite’s Novels” exemplify that catharsis, moving swiftly from a request to dance to an insistence that she’s headed to the grave. “When I write songs, I focus less on what they'll sound like and judge them based on whether or not the physical expression of whatever I'm feeling is successful,”  Madden says.


Recorded over just three days in Chicago’s JAMDEK studio and co-produced by Madden, Doug Malone, and Mike Altergott, Don’t Drive Into the Smoke revels in urgency. Tracks like the haunted “The Actor’s Last Question” and the bonfire-esque “Strange Actress“ utilize a live band feel, resulting in a thrilling blend of Florence and the Machine’s hooky immediacy and Circuit Des Yeux’s heady iconoclasm. The collaborative relationship in the studio helped push Madden further out of her comfort zone, as well. “There were many moments of trying to express an idea or question without knowing the right language or terminology, which felt lonely at times, but that challenge also created a lot of innovative choices on all of our parts,” she says. “There was a silent acknowledgement of the very intimate place these songs came from that resulted in very intentional communication between the three of us.”


Some of the songs on Don’t Drive Into the Smoke date back to Madden’s late teen years, just after she left behind a strict, conservative, religious environment and moved to Chicago to explore art more fully. Once she arrived in the city, Madden went to acting school and began to express herself through burlesque as well as music. “The emotions I wanted to express in my art didn’t tie in with my family’s values, but once I accepted the fact that I wanted to create, these songs started pouring out of me,” she says. “In a lot of ways, this album has been in process since I was eight years old without me fully knowing it, unpacking the life I had and what I wanted to build.” As such, the record chases the concept of fate and acceptance, even if that acceptance results in turmoil.

The sparkling sepia rumble of “Coming Home” provides another highlight, Madden again digging into the unknowability of the other, the gap between some people that remains insurmountable no matter how hard you wish otherwise. Later, “Your Pussycat” plays out like a syrupy, rumbling response to The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, elegiac guitar chording and shimmering cymbals paired with lyrics far more tense and conflicted than its canine counterpart. 


The romanticism of the album comes paired always with a gothic “til death do us part” darkness inherited from Madden’s Catholic upbringing, a childhood of preparing for death and focused on love focused on a man long dead. “There's a sense of beauty, abandonment, and devotion in spite of irrationality in there that has filtered into my songs and singing style,” she says. “I thought I wrote songs to understand myself romantically, but now that I have a number of years between myself then and now, I realize it’s an album largely about processing loss, of an unattainable life I desired, living inside of a dream.”

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