History of a Feeling
Sep 07, 2021
There’s often a thin veil of unreality to most songwriters, an element of creative license that divides the world of the artist’s creation from our own. On Madi Diaz’s History of a Feeling, her fifth full-length album一and her first for ANTI一those walls fall away. Diaz relies on no such abstractions, delivering her most pointed, sincere, and even bitter work yet.
The record also comes on the heels of her longest break from music yet. Aside from a 2017 EP, Diaz has been largely quiet since her 2014 record Phantom. In this case, it was a break-up that brought her back. Diaz began writing the record in 2018, but three years later the emotions behind it cut as deep as if she wrote the words yesterday. In her time away Diaz has only grown as a songwriter, easily translating her anguish into clear-eyed introspection and magnetic meditations.
Take “Rage,” the record’s opening moment of subdued fury. This isn’t the towering, burning rage of fresh betrayal. Rather, “Rage” is exhausted, opening the record on the moment when her struggling relationship finally falls into heartbreak. The hushed acoustic tones barely conceal Diaz’s bracing anger, delivered with venom and melancholy in equal measure. She confesses, “I wanna rage to erase everything/And I’m not afraid/Forgive and forget/Fuck you, fuck that.” From these opening moments, Diaz’s approach is full of seeping anger and stark honesty.
These meditations are shaded with details that range from relatable vignettes of heartbreak to specific confessions. “Crying In Public” and “Resentment” are visceral folk-tinged gut punches, first finding Diaz crying on the M-Train to Brooklyn and then immersed in the numb exhaustion of steadily building resentment. “I don’t hate you babe. It’s worse than that/Cause you hurt me and I don’t react/I’ve been building up this thing for months/Resentment.” Meanwhile, the record’s most emotionally fraught territory come with “Woman In My Heart” and “Man In Me,” the songs where Diaz wrestles most explicitly with the complexities of her former partner coming out as trans. She struggles with her conflicting instinct to hold love and compassion for her partner and her simultaneous heartache and confusion. The dusty folk rock stomp of “Woman In My Heart” lays out the struggle in unrelentingly honest terms: “Now the man I love is gone/And there’s a woman in my heart.”
Yet, amidst all of the record’s swirling emotional chaos, Diaz is subdued and vulnerable, bathed in country harmonies, gentle acoustic instrumentation, and aching beauty. She turns up the volume with the explosive distortion of “Think of Me” and the hook-laden pop songwriting of “Nervous,” offering some standout moments of driving instrumental heights. However, though these tracks are the few that stand best as singles, they prove to be only momentary diversions from the record’s meditative pacing.
The resulting record is unrepentantly dramatic and gorgeously messy. It’s a concerted exorcism of all of Diaz’s rage, resentment, and sadness. Though her inward journey is the record’s clear focal point, Diaz doesn’t shy away from moments of harsh honesty or thoroughly human drama. She kicks open doors, screams, and cries on “Man In Me.” She spits out the lyrics on “Think of Me,” perpetually on the verge of exploding into spiraling fury as she bitterly insists “I hope you fuck her with your eyes closed/And think of me.”
As much as the record allows Diaz to live within her anger, it equally lays open the path to acceptance. The final set of tracks offer moments of hesitant healing, gentle reflections further removed from the fresh wounds of heartbreak. In the quiet piano balladry of “Do It Now” you can see Diaz’s time-worn scars begin to heal一”If I give you everything will it freak you out/If you’re gonna love me do it now.” There’s a sense of finality as her anguish is put to rest and she takes her first steps into new love and new life.
The beauty of History of a Feeling lies in how completely it lets you into Diaz’s life. She conceals no caustic thought or angry outburst, laying it all bare in complete pointed honesty. While the record undoubtedly could be a comfort and companion for fans, most of all it was made for Diaz herself. Fortunately, Diaz’s chronicle of healing also makes for her most powerful record, a potent work of cherished folk beauty and open-hearted songwriting. (www.madidiaz.com)
Author rating: 8/10