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Rett Madison Soars on “Kerosene” and Sings About Righteous Love

by Hero Magnus

Clocking in at 3 minutes exactly, Rett Madison’s soaring new single “Kerosene” is one of the most powerful releases of this wild year.

Rett Madison is from West Virginia, moved to Michigan to study at Interlochen Arts Academy, and finally moved out to LA for college and the music industry. At just 23, she’s gotten write-ups from Billboard and Rolling Stone for her other recent single “Shame is a River.” “You were raised on righteous love / I was brought up in a burning house,” she sings in the first and (spoiler alert) final lines of the song. It’s a whole world in a single line, a dark fairytale in two phrases.

Her country roots are reflected in her vocals, which have a strong twang. While her music is thematically representative of melancholy indie women, she’s got much less fear of being dynamic. In any case, her music approaches the edges of country and rock. It is the kind of blur that happens when music is just too good and too original to arise purely from either genre. Calling it just one thing would limit it, and Madison can’t be limited.

Madison’s magic is in many things. Her voice is outstanding and draws us in, strong but not too perfect or artificial. Her unbridled and unpredictable lyricism keeps us with her: “If you lie here / I’ll keep you warm / just until you find the one / I’ll burn you through like kerosene / I’ll strike a match but no spark’s guaranteed.”

On social media and streaming platforms, Madison says she “sings a lot about grief and queerness.” There’s a parallel here between love, envy, and disgust: “you dried your hands on monogrammed towels / ones I used to put out fires and shield my mouth.” It encapsulates the violence of parallel lives, two people who have ended up in the same place from vastly different worlds. There’s in here both a commentary on the personalities of Madison and whoever she’s singing about as well as a larger social commentary on the inequalities that exist between people.

Madison also touches on the condescension that the privileged can have: “I met your type you’d like to settle me down / while I drown your picket fence,” she sings right before the soaring chorus.

It reminds me of a darker “Upper West Side” by King Princess, a song that explores a spoiled princess who lives cutting lines with credit cards on the upper west side. In both, there is a lusty fascination with the Other. Madison, though, makes a more robust exploration of herself as a character, and her own jadedness and power: “My heart is ember, but you make me feel young.” The contrast is what is interesting here: a wide-eyed easy innocence with a hardened and torn-up experience.

Madison doesn’t fit perfectly in with West Virginia mountain-mama country music nor with easy LA pop. She’s also involved in funk, releasing more than a dozen covers of songs with popular funk bands. Even though she’s not from the DMV area, Madison fits right in with the wild conglomeration of genres that our area represents.

For more Rett Madison, visit her website: rettmadison.com

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Hero Magnus

Hero Magnus is 20 years old. She runs a live radio show at Yale University called the Moon, and for fun she likes to dance at house shows, study American plays, and write music about historical figures. You can find some of her songs on Spotify and the rest on heromagnus.bandcamp.com. Hero is thrilled to be a new music reporter at Alchemical Records. 

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