Gladiola This Year’s Storm

The story goes that rock ‘n’ roll is a young person’s game. So what’s it mean to play rock music in middle age, trying to stay inspired while struggling with the demands of family and work? As Gladiola’s Bill Madden-Fuoco sings: “I’m blasting through my greatest hits/ It’s a list of things I didn’t do.”

On Gladiola’s previous album, 2013’s Off You Go, the band was immersed in the stories and perspectives of teenagers, inspired by Madden-Fuoco’s experiences teaching English in Boston public high schools. Now This Year’s Storm travels the compromised world of adults, where even the successful are haunted, like the TV kids’ show host in “Mental Schenectady” who knows “that on the other side of the screen…is burnt foil, toys and trash.” There’s the bittersweet complexity of growing older with someone (“We’re Never Going Back”), the consolations and disappointments of work (“A Little Joy For the Rest,” “First Night In the West,” “Greatest Hits”) and the hard truth of mortality (“A Science to Everything,” “The Uninvited Guest”).

The album keeps circling back to what happens to creativity, to the power of music, in a time of life that no longer seems to value it (“Sing Alone,” “You Can Tell”). Its songs take place in parking lots, hospices, airport lounges, and in houses with their boxes of old sketchbooks and dust-covered guitars. As Madden-Fuoco challenges in “Backpack”: “are you still writing? are you haunted by the amp in the basement?” “The songs are stories,” Madden-Fuoco explains, “but the characters are driven by questions that have hit me in recent years.”

Gladiola has recorded and played in the Boston area for over 10 years. It rose from the ashes of Madden-Fuoco’s first band, Resolve, which was a regular on the New England indie circuit of the 1990s. In 2002, Madden-Fuoco put together a group for a recording project (and as an impromptu wedding band), which resulted in Gladiola’s debut, Let the Notes Go Free. Soon to follow was There Is No Road and, in 2013, Off You Go.

The band’s had a rotating set of members, including Madden-Fuoco’s wife, Jessica, and his brother Tim. Current lineup is guitarist Joe Murphy, bass player Chris Regalia, who also engineered (recording Gladiola at their rehearsal space in Charlestown, using a Tascam digital portastudio), and drummer David Mohs. Dave Minehan mixed the album, as he’s done for all of Gladiola’s releases. But Minehan was touring with The Replacements last year, leaving a two-month break in mixing. “While Dave was on the road, we got restless and asked Mitch Easter [R.E.M., Wilco, Pavement] to mix a track,” Regalia says. “Mitch’s mix [lead-off track “We’re Never Going Back”] has a scruffy ambience that fits the song perfectly.”

Gladiola draws from a well of influences (some get name-checked on “Backpack,” like Camper Van Beethoven, The Waterboys and Midnight Oil), and their sound is a spare, updated take on 1980s college rock and new wave. But it’s not done in the service of nostalgia, nor is it an attempt to recreate the sound of the past. Gladiola’s music, drenched in Madden-Fuoco and Murphy’s guitars and ably steered by Regalia and Mohs, tries to find a way to go forward. The last songs on This Year’s Storm offer resolution for its bleak opening tracks. Closing track “You Can Tell” finds Madden-Fuoco thinking about a college party that’s raging somewhere in his town, while “we’re decades down the road” from the revelers. But there’s grace to be found in growing older, too: “Some things fade away/ some things appreciate.” This Year’s Storm sings the praises of both.

-Chris O’Leary (author of Rebel, Rebel), November 2015