Album Review – no mad: “Motions in Black”

no mad album

no mad is a rather unique alternative funk-rock band. It was formed in 2017 by five nomadic professional musicians with the purpose of recording songs that would eventually become the album Motions in Black, which dropped in late May. They’re all pretty talented artists, as evidenced by their superb melodic, guitar-driven rock sound. Though based in London, UK, they refer to themselves as “nomads in a nomadic world.” The band’s songwriter provided some background information about no mad and how Motions in Black came to be.

“The band really started with the songwriter unearthing old songs from cardboard boxes in 2016. Some of these songs had been written 20-30 years ago but never recorded. He met a few friends, friends of friends, etc., and in 2017 the band was formed to record a first 10-song album (the repertoire has a total of 40-50 songs, so plenty for more albums to come!). The songs that were chosen for the debut album Motions in Black were some of the older songs and also some of the darker ones, perhaps with some 1990s nostalgia. 

The five members of the band that recorded the album included the singer, guitarist, bassist, drummer, and the songwriter who did back-vocals and other bits. As modern nomads and London musicians, we came from very different backgrounds as well as music genres. The “D” in no mad is the “The Doctor.” He’s an incredible drummer and has been involved in lots of rock and metal projects, toured in Europe etc. In 2017 he became a father. His family settled in Lisbon and he had to leave London, so sadly, the band was down one. 

The band members are not really trying to stay anonymous, but they like their privacy, and being all professional musicians, they are also busy on other musical projects of their own. Fans can probably figure out who they are by following the tags in some tweets or Instagram pictures. It’s just that no mad believe in the power of the songs, the melodies and lyrics. It’s not about who we are or how we look, it’s about the music and message. Having said that, we’re not hiding either. “The NO” came to England when he was 13. He’s a brilliant guitarist who lives for his music. “The M” is an amazing bassist who’s been involved in lots of rock and metal bands, is a reference on his instrument, and has also settled in London after coming over from Europe. Singer-drummer “The A” is a bit of a different case ’cause he thinks he’s an alien, and actually calls himself “Alien”. He won’t say which planet he’s from though…. your guess is as good as ours on that one!”

The album kicks off nicely with the funky and upbeat “Car Jam.” A delightfully funky bass line, snappy drums and jazzy organ form a solid foundation for layers of intricate guitar work and lively vocals. The lyrics are an admonition to a rigid, uptight person to just loosen up, quit being so judgmental and have a good time – get down with the funk and do the car jam baby! no mad takes a more serious turn on “Just Another Love Story,” a song about trying to convince yourself a relationship is over, but you can’t get over her and keep imagining you see her everywhere you go. “But each time I’m feeling blue. I fall into some freaking view. Over you.” The guitar work is awesome, continuously surprising us with new textures that go from chiming to funky to bluesy, and everything in between. The percussion is fantastic too, with flourishes of military-style drumbeats that seem to drive home the bitterness expresses in the lyrics. It’s a great track; guitar-driven rock doesn’t get much better than this.

The beautifully-filmed video shows “The M” walking around Camden, where he thinks he repeatedly spots his old girlfriend.

Another standout track, and one of my favorites, is the dark “To the Other Side.” The gorgeous haunting melody hits you right between the ears, and as always, the guitar work is splendid. The impassioned vocals of “The A” have a seductive, yet slightly dangerous quality as he sings the lyrics that could mean he’s about to die or is suffering from a mental breakdown. “You know I love you Donna. Don’t want to leave you now. You know I love you don’ya. I’ll never let you down.” I really like the play on the words “Donna” and “don’ya.” The backing female vocals are beguiling, and add to the song’s haunting vibe.

As the album progresses, I’m blown away by the band’s ability to write such beautiful and memorable melodies. “Anna” has a fantastic hook, along with plenty of rock grooves that make for a really nice track. The song’s about a women who seems lost in her own world, with the singer trying to break through to her. “Anna, Pretty Anna what do you see? When you’re waiting for a message but there’s nothing on the screen. How d’you feel?” Clocking in at nearly six minutes, “Sweet Loneliness” has an almost epic quality, with extensive lyrics that read like a long, deep poem: “Why did you have to go so soon. It’s like you left an empty room. You filled my life with your absence.  Pronounced an unfinished sentence. Sweet loneliness, my old friend I’ve come to be with you again. You are my peace, my consolation. And I’ll be with you till the end.” The bluesy riffs and haunting melody are positively mesmerizing, and I can safely state that I’m head over heels in love with this album, even though I’m only halfway through it!

Next up is the gorgeous title track “Motions in Black.” The track starts off with “The A” singing “Da da da da da da da” to a jangly acoustic guitar, then the track opens up into an achingly beautiful melodic riff of jangly and bluesy guitars. The song was written in 1985, and speaks to a love that used to be: “If you wanta be anything to me. I’ll take no other feeling than your sentiment of love. And if you want a chat. Why don’t we talk it over. Motions in black.” It’s absolutely sublime, and another of my favorite tracks on the album.

The guys return to a funky mood with “Get Along,” essentially an anti-war song that urges us to stop fighting and learn to love and accept one another and get along: “We’re all sons of the World. On this I’ll give you my word. We’ve been waiting too long. Why can’t we all get along?” The bouncy and funky “Downtown” tells the saga of Betty, who went to the big city to try and make it on her looks and charm, but ended up in trouble and on the streets. “She’s not a bitch or a witch I realized. She’s just another human being. / I hear an angel crying. Down Town.”

Mental Revolution” is an interesting track, with two completely different melodies. The song opens with a soaring anthemic chorus, then abruptly transitions to an uptempo funk-infused rock reminiscent of the kind the Average White Band played back in the 70s. The anthemic chorus is repeated halfway through, then the melody shifts back to the funky rock tempo. Album closer “Tonight” is an upbeat rock song of love and devotion: “Tonight, I want you to know. Wherever you go I’ll be there for you.” The track features some fine guitar and keyboards.

To sum up, Motions in Black is a fantastic album and stellar debut for no mad. It really showcases their skill for writing poetic lyrics and gorgeous, guitar-driven melodies, and bringing them to magnificent life. I eagerly look forward to them recording more of those already-written songs.

Connect with no mad:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music on  Spotify / Apple Music
Purchase on  Bandcamp / iTunes

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