Madi Diaz makes nervous, excitable pop music that sounds like the soundtrack to an imaginary television show — some post-Gilmore Girls, post-Pretty Little Liars amalgam of teen pop, light funk and overall desperation, with cool sounds to match. This is a compliment, since I believe in lifestyle choices, not to mention the message of female self-reliance television can send so effectively. A Nashville musician whose roots are in twisted pop, Diaz makes complex recordings that reveal well-trained musical minds at work.
Diaz was born in Mount Nebo, Pa., in 1986, and went to school at Boston's Berklee College of Music. Having grown up with a father who moonlighted as a rock musician, Diaz absorbed progressive rock. "Growing up, we were all over the place," Diaz says. "There was The B-52's, Talking Heads and Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. And over to The Beatles and Yes." Diaz's father eventually quit his day job to play keyboards in a Frank Zappa tribute band, while Diaz kept listening to everything from punk rock to Madonna.
"I've always been a sucker for good pop, but I love the craft of writing you find on a Bonnie Raitt record," says Diaz. "I loved Bonnie when I was 14, and Shania Twain, which is a pretty guilty pleasure."
At the same time, Diaz soaked up The Clash and the Sex Pistols, along with The Police. Out of school and at loose ends, she and fellow Berklee student Kyle Ryan moved to Nashville in 2008. They had already been writing songs and released the excellent full-length Skin and Bone in 2007.
The duo's latest project is a three-song EP titled Far From Things That We Know, which Diaz says is a preview for the full-length Plastic Moon, set for release early next year. Prolific songwriters, Diaz and Ryan went through roughly 40 songs to get the full-length down to 11.
"We write so much, and it's been kind of a long process, putting this record out," Diaz says. "'Let's Go,' the single, Kyle and I wrote three years ago, when we first moved to Nashville. I'm such an instant-gratification person, and it's mind-blowing how long things take in the real world."
"Let's Go" suggests Diaz has listened to the jumpy funk of such '80s groups as The Ambitious Lovers and Scritti Politti — the combination of Diaz's vocals, nervous piano and skittering guitar lines is as arty as it is commercial. The EP also contains the fine "Johnny" and the melancholic "Heavy Heart."
Diaz and Ryan's music contains traces of everything from Scritti Politti to The Police, not to mention the off-kilter drive of Zappa. But it's pop that's light enough to have enhanced the plot of a 2010 episode of the teen-oriented mystery television series Pretty Little Liars. Still, there's a disquieting undertone to Diaz's examinations of young-adult freedom that departs from the usual plot, and that just proves how profound pop can be.
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