Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky
ABOVE THE CURRENT
“I don’t wanna be loved,” repeats Dana Margolin on “Birthday Party,” an early-album standout from Porridge Radio’s new record Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky. It’s the kind of line that can land any number of ways. Is it so obviously false as to be facetious? Is it devastatingly forthright? Is it a lie internalized to the point of gospel? The answer is yes, and it’s one of Margolin's shrewdest tricks. Repetition is not typically something applauded in the first paragraph of a positive review—which this is—but no one repeats themselves quite like Porridge Radio.
Margolin sings “I don’t wanna be loved” over 50 times on “Birthday Party.” Whatever you believe she might have meant in the line’s first utterance stretches and bends to the point of becoming unrecognizable by the last, refracted dozens of times until every eventuality is possible. It’s a move the Brighton indie-rock quartet comes back to again and again, trusting the listener in a way few bands allow, making Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky one of the most engaging records of the year so far.
It would be giving Margolin short shrift as a lyricist, though, to focus too intently on only one aspect of her songwriting. Repetition may serve as an exclamation point on the end of so many of Porridge Radio’s best songs, a hammer driving the nail deep, but Margolin is a writer with tools to spare. There’s a moment on their 2020 breakout record Every Bad where Margolin admits a simple desire: “I don't want to get bitter,” she sings on “Lilac.” It’s a battle that seems to play out frequently throughout Waterslide, a record which tempers hope but resists despair.
Rot is a recurring motif, an image particularly affecting because of its inevitability. “My body is made of wood and stone, it can rot and it can burn,” Margolin sings on “Trying,” a song set on wrestling meaning from hopelessness. Later, on “Rotten,” she admits a wish to “sing away the rottenness” before acknowledging that music alone might not be enough (“And I take whatever I need now, it stops the rot from spreading”). And yet, hopelessness doesn’t seem to overtake the narrative completely. “So come on, step up to it / Plants do not water themselves,” she sings on “Flowers,” an internal reminder of how time can foster growth just as easily as it can hasten decay.
There’s very little hyperbole I could muster when describing this record on a sonic level. Waterslide is a supremely accomplished record. There’s a reason Every Bad made such an impact in 2020—a year, you might remember, when music was not exactly always at the forefront of our minds—and yet Waterslide blows it out of the water in nearly every way. Where Every Bad was an exhilarating deluge of power and veracity, this record is far more nuanced and organic without losing any of the urgency.
The control of a song like “End of Last Year,” the carnival of ideas stuffed into “U Can Be Happy If U Want To,” the meandering-yet-pointed beauty of “Flowers,” the swirling enormity of “The Rip”—it’s a collection few bands could manage in a best-of playlist, much less on one record early in what will hopefully be a long career. “Buzzy” is a descriptor handed out a little too liberally these days, but it’s one that doesn’t come close to capturing the vibrations coming off of one of the most exciting bands in the world.