UK-based band Porridge Radio are one of the most vital new voices in alternative music, having transformed from DIY darlings to a Mercury-nominated tour de force for their 2020 album, Every Bad, in the space of less than a year. Today, they announce their third album, Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky, out May 20th on Secretly Canadian, and release its lead single/video, “Back to the Radio.” If Every Bad established frontperson Dana Margolin’s lemon-sharp, heart-on-sleeve honesty, Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky takes that to anthemic new heights. It’s the sound of someone in their late twenties facing down the disappointment of love, and life, and figuring out how to exist in the world, without claiming any answers. It’s also catchy as hell.
The album opens with new single “Back To The Radio,” a powerful call to arms that contrasts Margolin’s lyrics of panic and closing herself off – “lock all the windows and march up the stairs” – with a rousing end-of-night chorus made for clutching your friends closely. The song’s ambitious one-shot video was directed by Dana’s sister Ella Margolin and features the band - drummer Sam Yardley, keyboardist Georgie Stott, and bassist Maddie Ryall – immersed in a pastel papier-mâché world.
‘“Back To The Radio’ feels like a huge introductory hello or a big ceremonial goodbye,” comments Dana. “I wrote it at the end of 2019 when we were gearing up for the release of Every Bad and I felt like a lot of things were coming that I wasn’t sure I knew how to handle. The song grew out of a feeling of intense loneliness and being unprepared for what everybody was promising me was about to happen – and a strong desire to escape without knowing what I wanted to escape to. To me there’s a huge feeling of catharsis in this song, of letting go and letting it sweep you away.”
Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky is a surreal image that’s partly inspired by a collage by the artist Eileen Agar, and evokes the ducks and dives, slippery slopes and existential angst of life, while also drawing from the story of Jacob’s Ladder from the Old Testament which, “symbolizes the ups and downs of human life, of virtue and transgression,” Margolin explains. The idea that no one emotional state is binary is central to the album. “With this album, the feelings of joy, fear and endlessness coexist together,” says Margolin.
That mix of emotions has defined Porridge Radio’s past two years to say the least. It’s a strange sensation, becoming a breakthrough band who are breathlessly championed without being able to experience any of it in the real world due to the pandemic (Every Bad was released in March 2020). In spite of that, they’ve managed to become one of the UK’s most thrilling acts. For Porridge Radio, global recognition had been a long time coming after years of booking their own tours and self-releasing their music. But in some ways, Dana welcomed the pause. She had been struggling to reconcile the lo-fi Dana of the Brighton scene with Bona Fide Indie Star Dana, hurtling into a new league – not only a musician but an artist in every sense, who has painted all three of Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky’s expressive covers.
While Every Bad established Dana’s bravery in laying herself bare, her band’s third record is more confident and emotionally incisive. There are moments of powerful catharsis, ones that occur when you allow the full intensity of an experience to take hold. In places, that no-holds-barred rawness is on par with bands like Deftones (their sweeping metal is a key touchstone) or emo, elevated by Yardley’s ambitious instrumentals. “I kept saying that I wanted everything to be 'stadium-epic' - like Coldplay,” says Dana. Co-produced by Tom Carmichael, Margolin and Yardley, the album’s sound is panoramic and sparkling.
Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky seems to be eternally striving for balance – joy, fear and endlessness in harmony. But there’s also self-acceptance. Dana is more aware of how she’s creating a persona as her star continues to rise, and how she’s singing personal songs that now belong to other people. She’s had people tell her that Every Bad got them through their cancer diagnosis, their break-up, their isolated lockdown. But now she feels it gives her purpose. “I wrote these songs for myself but I think everyone wants to feel like what they’re doing is useful in some way,” she says. I'm learning to embrace both now, the parts that are for me, and the parts that are for everybody else.”