Wax Runoff: The Black Madonna [ARGOT 006]
Perhaps my favorite release from Chicago-based label Argot came in the form of a two track 12” from well-loved hometown artist The Black Madonna in 2013. For a while this super bad piece of music was tough to find. Copies of the Lady of Sorrows E.P. were scarce and resale value was high. That’s why it was splendid that the label decided to go ahead and give it a repress last year.
The record is well-deserving of a spot in anyone’s collection partly due to it’s exploration of stylistic cues. Not quite house, not quite disco, and not quite techno – the sounds contained in the grooves are top quality and never seem to have an ambiguous moment, yet combine much of what is enjoyable about each genre.
The repress lacks an outer sleeve, which is a very acceptable price to pay for such expertly crafted tunes. The only sort of artwork involved is on the opposite side of the EP info: a sketch of clasped rosary hands. Indeed, the music on the record feels celestial, hopeful, weighted by guilt and elated by enlightenment.
“A Jealous Heart Never Rests” on the A-side (which if you’ve ever seen her perform) is quite honestly a perfect ode to the types of music she likes to play. Classic disco drum samples create a wonderful organic foundation upon which very dramatic chords in the form of a string quartet elicit an immediate emotional response. The tastiest aspect of the tune though is the marvelously chunky bass arpeggio that dances over the drums and around the various other tonal elements in the track. In fact, it’s deeply impressive how many different instruments make their way into the composition without clouding one another. A lot of objectively good dance music doesn’t often incorporate many sounds in key because it runs the danger of being too complex and preventing the notes that already exist from shining. Chicago house influence is not lost in this tune; halfway through, the obligatory warm chord stab triplet injects itself into the mix before the other elements come swirling back around everything. This track is full, strong, and not afraid – perfect for early to peak hour dancing.
On the flip side you will find “We Can Never Be Apart” and it takes the same sort of musical approach to construction. It’s always interesting when the same instruments are used to make all the tracks on an EP. The same bass arp instrument is present again, but more toned down this time around. Synthetic bells instead creep in to add layers and give it more life. The disco drums are back too, but play a more up front role. There is still a massive amount going on musically speaking, and it’s equally as impressive as the first time. Where the first tune is really a nod to house and more modern dance music, this second number seems to be more reminiscent of ’80s synthpop due to different phrase structuring and key shifts. That’s the trouble with trying to pin down The Black Madonna’s sound, though. She really doesn’t pigeonhole herself to a set template. Her music is tentative and liquid. I find all her work to be this fantastic intersection of style and class, prompting a sound that is very much all her own.
This record is still around some of your favorite outlets. Juno limited purchases to one per customer but it’s still a tad steep. The best way to get a new un-played copy is through Discogs and well worth the price. As if the repress didn’t indicate these are truly top-notch tunes, the soaring orchestral work coupled with incredibly strong drum arrangements will see you playing this record over and over again.
Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.