As Midwife, the Denver based singer and multi-instrumentalist Madeline Johnston has captured a deeply stirring immersion into quietly circulating unease on her new album Forever, which drops officially on April 10 via The Flenser. The songs on this album often float along, with softly strummed guitar melodies that feel like ripples slowly expanding upon the top of an isolated pond on an overcast day. Johnston’s own singing often proves subdued and careful, and the nuanced, poignant emotional expression readily apparent in her dynamics feels like listeners are observing her processing the themes in the lyrics in real time. As such, listeners become a part of the experience.
The Emotional Background of Forever
Johnston crafted her latest songs while grieving the loss of a close friend named Colin Ward, who she met at the Denver artists’ space Rhinoceropolis. The songs could be taken as a meditation on impermanence and how that potentially abstract concept really bleeds into our lives and directs our steps.
“I definitely found some catharsis in the process,” Johnston explains of her songwriting. “It was a great therapeutic outlet for me during this difficult time. I had never lost a close friend or really anyone before; I was navigating a lot of new emotional landscapes and trying to work through them. I was simultaneously writing and recording the album last year, I didn’t know what was going to happen when it was done. In a way it chronicles some of the different aspects of my grief and its omnipresent nature – “Language,” for example, was the first song I wrote for the record, and feels really personal and deliberate – then later, writing “S.W.I.M.,” the album’s closer, I felt like I could see it all from an aerial perspective, like I could finally see in color again – omniscient.”
On “S.W.I.M.,” like a sudden, solemnly relieving realization, Johnston softly sings: “I don’t want to live forever/ I don’t want to stay the same… I don’t want to swim forever/ Treading water my whole life.”
The Sounds of Forever
On Forever, Johnston feels like she doesn’t just suggest or point to the feelings at hand; she encapsulates them. For example, the thick haze accompanying the gentle yet poignant guitar melody on the album’s closer feels like a musical portrait of those elusive moments following a peak of sadness in which feelings start to level out, yet the emotional landscape might never be quite the same. There’s a gentle naturalism floating through Johnston’s often quite subdued songs, and simultaneously, the melodies tend to pop.
“I had some fantastic collaborators that really helped bring it to life and into full focus,” Johnston shares. “Tucker Theodore — whom I co-produced Like Author, Like Daughter with, Randall Taylor of AMULETS, and Jensen Keller & Caden Marchese, who are members of the Midwife band, really helped shape it sonically.”
Concurrently, Johnston’s part in the Denver-area DIY music community feels inspiring, she explains.
“Denver feels especially vibrant right now, and it’s been awesome to witness and be a part of,” she shares. “I’ve also felt really inspired and humbled to be working with The Flenser, and diving into their whole catalogue. In terms of what I’ve been paying attention to – I’m particularly excited to see what Eve Maret will do next. She’s an experimental electronic musician from Nashville, reminds me a lot of Terry Riley and others of that school. Orchard Thief just put out a fantastic new record called The Gentle World that I’ve been listening to on repeat. I also just got a new cassette from Whited Sepulchre I can’t get enough of – Skin by Nicole Oberle.”
Johnston used these elements to craft her own space for emotional exploration. “I’ve been feeling very excited to release the new record in April,” she shares. “Release in the truest sense of the word – allow or enable to escape from confinement; set free.”
Johnston is one of the many artists who had to cancel touring in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, but the release date remained. “It’s really all over the place, and not in a bad way,” she comments of her new album. “I wanted to write a letter to Colin. I wanted to encapsulate something of his larger than life and complicated energy. I wanted to turn my isolation into something accessible and communicative. I am always aiming to write songs that are personal and universal simultaneously.”
And in this case, that universal aspect comes with a message. Johnston shares: “Although losing someone never gets easier, and the pain never goes away, you’re not alone in it.”
Photo via Alana Wool
Listen to music from Forever below.