Album Review: Madi Diaz – Weird Faith

[ANTI-; 2024]

When Madi Diaz released her great 2021 album, History of a Feeling, it felt to many like a debut. But, of course, it wasn’t. In fact, the musician had already put four prior albums — including a self-released actual debut back in 2007 — before becoming a songwriter for hire. For many years, Diaz wrote or co-wrote songs for other singers, eventually reaching arguably her closest brush with the mainstream by penning Kesha’s “Resentment”, from the pop star’s 2020 album High Road. The song wound up being taken back on Diaz’s History, and that album ushered her work into a greater scope of vision. Finally, a woman behind many indelible tracks sung by other artists was getting the wider audience her work deserved.

And now a few years on — and with a world tour or two with none other than Harry Styles completed — Diaz is back with her sixth record, Weird Faith. Where her last album was steeped in the tough and confusing aftermath of a bad break up, Weird Faith is concerned more with new love. But it’s not all roses and puppies — Diaz has said that much of this album takes place between when you’ve proclaimed a new love and the moment when you may or may not realize it’s right. You can glean as much from the lead single, “Same Risk”, where Diaz implores her new lover to assure her that they are also putting it all on the line for this relationship; that they’re also willing to give everything.

It’s a familiar feeling to many: you’ve put yourself out there, shown your cards, and you’re not sure if it’ll be reciprocated. Or if it is, for how long will it last? This delicate uncertainty powers a good chunk of Weird Faith, and it’s an interesting position to write from. History, for all its clever command of wording and melody, did tread in very well-worn territory. Weird Faith operates, mostly, in either those moments of unclearness or in the very early stages of the relationship, when things are good but maybe still a bit unsteady. 

The first few songs seem to take place in the immediate wake of a new love. After “Same Risk” questions the reciprocity of a crush, “Everything Almost” finds Diaz wondering how much of themselves they need to give to each other. “Is it okay if you keep some things just for you / And I keep some things just for me?” she questions, over a simple pop-rock instrumental. It’s a cool, breezy, catchy song about a common curiosity. Then “Girlfriend” sees Diaz speaking directly to her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, basically explaining all the ways in which it is and/or isn’t weird that she’s still in his life. The chorus is sticky pop perfection, Diaz’s voice whipping effortlessly around the melody. But even though she seems to assert that their new love is totally solid (as opposed to the one he shared with the ex), little hints at dirt around the edges arise. When she sings how he “always shows up” and “we’re so in love,” it sounds like she might be overcompensating for an insecurity. 

After the opening triptych, which feels light on its feet and only blushing with melancholy, Weird Faith heads into the thornier thickets of love. While not a breakup record like her prior album was, it is often quite a sad record, with much more of the pondering here about herself instead of a partner. On “Get To Know Me”, She’s asking a partner how well he wants to get to know her and her many perceived flaws (“Did you get to my negativity yet? / When my glass is never half full”) and pleads the titular question over booming drums. It’s a striking moment of utter, heartbreaking transparency.

On the Kacey Musgraves duet “Don’t Do Me Good”, she insists she knows this new love will take her down, and that it isn’t healthy for her to stay with them. And on the gloriously sad “For Months Now”, Diaz admits all the small ways in which she’s been slowly breaking up with someone (“That night you left me with your friends / I left you, a little bit then”), not sure how to cleanly break it off. It’s a tricky thing to admit about yourself, but the absolute candor with which Diaz delivers it — with a stunning vocal and a building instrumental — brings it home.

Lyrically and melodically, aside from a few dud rhymes and clichés, Diaz is at the height of her powers. She’s got a bell-clear voice, capable of communicating immense power and subtle heartache. She can go from soft and coy like on “Girlfriend”, to gracefully traveling a steady climb up to her higher register on the gorgeous, searching “God Person”. But too often, it’s the dressing of her songs that become their undoing. 

The music on Weird Faith sometimes feels like an afterthought, and the pacing can be a bit sleepy. Too many songs here fall within a similar midtempo, and seldom include more than guitars, voices, and maybe a very simple drum or synth. When it does go harder — like on “Everything Almost”, or the bursts of noise on the otherwise forgettable “Kiss the Wall” — it is a welcome respite, but doesn’t end up adding much to the overall experience or impression the album leaves behind. And sometimes when the music soars, like on the ending of “Don’t Do Me Good” (a piano-rock climax that would make Rachael Yamagata proud), or on the noisy closer “Obsessive Thoughts”, it just feels a bit like too little too late.

Taken on their own, almost every song here sounds perfectly nice, but hung together as they are, the album is caught in a mire of its own meek tempos. And, ironically, the simplest and sparest cuts come off the strongest in the end. “For Months Now” relays the titanic ache of revealing a terrible truth about yourself with wailing vocals and big, echoing drums. “God Person” includes a little hazy choir effect while Diaz looks for meaning in the universe. “KFM” is a bit confusing lyrically (playing with the “kill fuck marry” game that people play in high school, and coming just shy of crossing a line into comic tastelessness), the melody is handled by a deft earworm of a vocal and a gradual build. And the title track, which includes only Diaz and her guitar, is the light at the end of the tunnel. She’s assuring herself she will try her best, and have a “weird faith” that maybe, just maybe, things will go her way.

Madi Diaz is a hell of a songwriter, which explains why she was able to find success behind the scenes for so long. On her last album, she lamented and raged about a broken relationship; on Weird Faith, she worries about new love — what’s to come of it; will anything come of it? It’s true the songs could afford to sound a little more interesting, and it would be nice to see her play with the sonic world of her songcraft more on future releases. But, as it stands, Weird Faith is an honest and well-written record by one of underground pop’s sharpest and most empathetic artists.