Photo by Claire Marie Vogel
With her new album Revealer, Madison Cunningham is processing intimate emotions alongside all of us. Cunningham’s recently released 11-track LP finds her dealing with grief and existential worries, struggles that feel more relatable than ever due to the past few years.
At 25 years old, Cunningham continues to add to her list of impressive accomplishments. Her work has already earned her two Grammy nominations: Best Folk Album and Best Americana Album for her EP Wednesday and her album Who Are You Now, respectively. She’s also opened for Harry Styles at Madison Square Garden and turned in an excellent Tiny Desk Concert for NPR. Now, she’s embarking on a headlining tour, bringing Bendigo Fletcher along as a supporting act.
While creating Revealer, Cunningham worked spontaneously, recording each song within a few days of writing it. “Towards the end, when all of these pieces had to come together as one thought, it was sort of a lucky, happy accident,” Cunningham tells KSDT about finalizing the album. “I think ultimately it was all just written from the same place.” Her work is never repetitive (due to her writing talents and the producing prowess of contributors Mike Elizondo, Tyler Chester, and Tucker Martine), as exemplified by the discomforting ukulele featured on the dissonance-filled “Your Hate Could Power a Train.” However, the album maintains cohesion because—as Cunningham explains—it’s all “thematically linked.”
Those themes are not easy to digest; Revealer is an album of intimation and distress, an exploration of how the one-two punch of modern life and the pandemic has affected Madison (and, more broadly, all of us). In the opening track, Cunningham accepts that she cannot escape from the grief that she’s experienced, singing, “I hear nothing, no rescue coming.” This is a sentiment that is echoed throughout the album, and it comes out in full force in “Life According to Raechel,” in which Cunningham mourns her late grandmother. She reckons with the fact that death brings life to an abrupt end rather than a satisfying conclusion, worrying that “there’s always something left unsaid,” and wondering, “What was it that I forgot to ask you?” There’s a sense of uncertainty in the songs, as if she’s probing for answers but only finding more questions. Cunningham reinforces this sentiment, saying that adulthood means overcoming the idea that you should have all the answers: “I’m 25, and I feel the youngest that I ever have in my life.”
But Cunningham’s songs aren’t all doom and gloom. “In From Japan” finds her joking that “the world’s greatest song is one no mortal’s ever heard.” Even in the admittedly dark revelation of “I am an antenna, a feeding tube and a hard drive, entertaining myself to death to maintain some sort of life,” her sense of humor shines through in the idiosyncratic imagery and the paradoxical nature of her words. The addition of levity balances the album, leading to a creation that Cunningham says she hopes is “a conversation starter” and something that people can relate to “on a personal level.”
Starting those conversations on the road is something she’s looking forward to. She names opening at Madison Square Garden the most rewarding moment in her career so far. However, Cunningham is looking forward to headlining. Although she feels more pressure to put on a great show, she explains that when you’re a headliner, “there’s just so much more investment” from the audience. “They’re there for you. They want you to succeed.” Not to be deterred by sexism she might face as a performer, she says, “It’s actually a fun time to be a female guitarist,” joking that it’s a “cultural moment” right now.
Revealer is an intimate portrait of a young artist—a collection of secrets and confessions that are meant to be heard, not hidden. As Cunningham forges ahead and takes the stage this fall, her words will be heard loud and clear.
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