Concept EPs are something that I would like to see more of. This “tidbit” style of album creation appeals to me for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one, I believe, is that it normalizes the process of creation. By no means am I suggesting making a themed or shorter work is easier than making something more expansive, but I do think that they tend to show the cracks a little bit more, but in a way that adds to their charm. It’s the musical equivalent of a zine, those beloved micro-works known for their ragged edges, both literal and metaphorical.
Oakland’s Margalee have put out one such slice-of-life, a four track EP that is essentially a love letter to singer, instrumentalist, and producer Margaret Potts’ mom. While the band normally makes eclectic rock, this stripped-down experiment, titled Let The Mad World Spin, does not feel lesser, nor does it feel under-produced, which can happen with concept EPs done on the fly (or in quarantine).
Track one, “gratitude for moms,” is a rambling kitchen-counter note given space to expand beyond the page. “[Thanks for] doing all the wifey things that you had to do/I don’t even know what that means/because you taught me that a woman can be anything she wants/and Dad did the laundry” Potts sings, laughing on the last word. Right off the bat we have a sense of this family and the lightness and informality between them. Potts lets the song ramble off towards the end, asking, “What do you call a mother’s love/for a child and vice versa?” Its a worthwhile question, but Potts doesn’t need to provide an answer — finding the perfect metaphor is not the point here.
Rambling, talk-singing, and non-music sounds are mainstays of the concept EP, and “Let the Mad World Spin” is no exception. 60’s and 70’s folk are also some clear influences that Potts pulls to inform certain musical choices, and her voice, which she changes on pin turns, sometimes dips into a throaty warble that would be off-putting if you couldn’t hear her smiling her way through it.
“get yourself a dream” is another strange song. It relies on a lot of repeated syntax, but still holds some great lyrics, like the beginning of the second verse: “like a rusty bucket returning to the same well/yes, the same hell hoping for water/is is possible?” Potts could have just been riffing and happened to land on some quality turns of phrase, but as any artist knows, waiting for inspiration is… well, like being a rusty bucket returning to the same dry place.
One of Potts’s strengths is knowing what to emphasize, but with the precision of a musical theater kid mid-soliloquy. In “blooms,” which starts off rather slow and soft, Potts quickly brings us in another, more energetic direction when she starts in on “I like the subtle power of blooms in a West Oakland garden/how do they manage vulnerability? In a cosmos with black holes/ how do they flower shamelessly?” the whole time, her inflections chase with ease, somehow fitting eleven syllables in that second line without making it sound forced.
“let the mad world spin,” was the immediate standout, the most solidly constructed of the four songs and with a few experimental elements that drew me in immediately, like little high-pitched sound integrated into the song early on before becoming a percussive instrument. It’s a quick little thing at under two minutes, but sums up the themes of the EP nicely: womanhood, personal autonomy, nature and the community found there.
All and all, Let the Mad World Spin is a strong showing from Margalee, a folk-rock testing ground for expressing what I assume was a concentrated burst of feeling for Potts’ mother and her adopted town of Oakland. Short works can, of course, be sloppy, but more often than not, they are a welcome green light for our spur of the moment ideas and how perfection and a three-act structure are not always necessary to create something of emotional and artistic resonance.