It was outside of Black Mountain, North Carolina, that my friend introduced me to Madi Diaz’s newest album, Phantom. On our way home to Nashville from a weekend excursion, I had insisted we bid goodbye to the mountain town’s nighttime with my go-to scroll of acoustic folk songs that promote despair and wallowing. Around my fifth cigarette and a dramatized version of Neil’s “Out On The Weekend,” my friend politely suggested we listen to Madi’s Phantom, a pop-heavy breakup album that intertwines tender heartstrings with driving, danceable sound. I became enamored with the danceable, upbeat album that appeals to an perpetually broken heart. It was after “Mess,” with its marching drum line and Madi’s anthemic, pitch-perfect soprano, that I fell deeply in love with this catchy album, full of post-breakup resilience and sunny liberation.
A former resident of Nashville, the city still holds a special place in her heart. “I love it there so much still and part of me plans on buying some land there and going back there and having a studio, because it’s just such a home feeling,” she tells me. But after four and a half years, the Pennsylvania Native picked up and moved to our sister city, Los Angeles. “I was just feeling antsy, I can’t really describe it. I went with my gut and my gut told me to move.”
Going out west seems to have been a productive decision for the twenty-eight year old singer, whose music has evolved from its country-folk beginnings into a dynamic pop sound that captures the vocal hooks and booming bass lines it takes to make an addictive, catchy record, without every losing its complexity or seeming contrived. But it’s not just the location that influenced Diaz’s evolution as a pop artist; but rather the revelation of a latent expression of music that has always been within her. Her growth as a musician reflects the idea that we always emerge as where we are meant to, irrespective of our locations. On Nashville, she says, “of course everywhere you live and exist will influence your artistry and your music. You live somewhere and fall in love, or make a friend, or write a song, so of course, Nashville had a huge impact on me as a person and my music.” But Madi’s records were at their most country when she was living in Boston, and her growth as a pop artist exposes a fated destination, a music place where she always wanted to find herself going, that would have come about regardless of where she was living.
With the release of Phantom, Madi has succeeded in creating a musical catharsis; bridging the line between an unflagging pop sensibility and developed lyrical content. With experience recording top line vocals, her voice permeates each track as strong and familiar, exposing the well-traversed terrain of heartbreak over major chords and energetic bass lines. Her voice remains as strong as ever, stripped of any frills that might disguise its true talent, and each track stands on its own as a complex structure filtered through a pop sensibility.
“I’ve always kind of been enamored with the juxtaposition of really cynical and maybe depressing content lyrically with a driving and soaring feeling,” she says. “To me I think that heartbreak is one of the most incredibly wide feelings that you can experience as a human being. … There’s something about music that makes people want to soar high and feel further and I think that the song content was very speaking to the moment but the music pulls it past that.”
Madi Diaz returns to Nashville next Monday, November 10, at Mercy Lounge.
– Emily K.