FIRST LISTEN: “Escape” by Salem Belladonna

Escape_Official_BestLast summer, I took a look at Circus of Alice, the first album from indie pop artist Madison Chase. That first album was the product of a young musician – it was made while she was a teenager – but it was easy to see that she had boatloads of talent and made the listener extremely interested in future music she’d make. Years have passed since that album came out, and she’s released a handful of new songs here and there, each of them showing her evolution as an artist while maintaining a similar stylistic connection to her previous work. Now, this past week, she dropped her newest single, “Escape”, as well as a total rebranding of her artistic persona: now performing under the name Salem Belladonna (henceforth, this post will refer to her by this stage name), “Escape” is the first song of the next era of music from Salem Belladonna – and the song continues where her previous singles have left off: furthering her evolution as an artist while pushing her music in both new and familiar directions – all while being a damn good, catchy song. (Two notes: 1. I don’t normally review much music on this blog, so I’ll do my best at sounding like I have any idea what I’m talking about. 2. In the interests of full disclosure, I know Madison in real life. That being said, all thoughts, as always, are my own and are not influenced by any outside sources.)

From the very first notes of this song, listeners are immediately pulled into this dreamscape of a world. Much of Belladonna’s music has always been based around the atmosphere of the song; sure, the music would be catchy or would sound pretty, but the sheer sound design of the song would be the kind of thing that would draw you into its world. It’s a huge part of what made her first album so successful as a concept record and it’s a quality she’s kept with her subsequent releases, up through this one. The music of “Escape”, itself, has this quality that makes you feel like you’re hearing it from a bit of a distance. I don’t mean that in a bad way; it just gives you the impression of standing in a very large room, hearing the music from speakers that aren’t positioned directly next to your head.

Then, of course, that all changes once the main beat of the song kicks in. It cuts perfectly through the fog, matching the pointedness of the lyrics in such a smart way. Much of the music tries to lull you into this feeling of relaxation while the lyrics seem to be from the point of view of the monster inside everyone – whether it be depression, self-doubt, etc – trying to keep us from facing our problems and lull us into a place of despondency and apathy. Couple that with the lyrics that, at times, almost feel threatening and you have this really cool mixture of emotions that perfectly captures what it’s like to find yourself caught in one of those spirals where you know you need to face your problems but you desperately don’t want to and seek out any escape you can find, knowing full well that you need to face the truth in order to actually start feeling better. As someone who struggles pretty badly with depression and anxiety, much of my life is dedicated to trying to find that balance between an acceptable amount of escapism (used to recharge mental batteries) and indulging in too much escapism and avoiding dealing with my problems. It’s rare that any piece of art really understands that balancing act, so the fact that the lyrics of this song really does is something that hit home quite a bit for me.

One of the things I love the most about Belladonna’s music is how she blends all of these ideas together in such interesting and unique ways. A number of her songs feature a similar juxtaposition between the lyrics and the music as this song does. Her music always feels mostly normal, but just slightly off – hence the “creepy pop” genre – while her lyrics tend to emphasize that off-ness. It makes for a really impactful combination that is quick to get, and hold onto, your attention. “Escape” is a song you should really listen to with headphones so you can hear the full impact of exactly what’s going on with the instruments in the song. All of them are playing off of each other in ways that don’t scream for you to pay attention to them but absolutely impact the entire atmosphere of the song. All of it blends together to create this total dreamscape of a song that is absolutely captivating.

As this is Salem Belladonna’s first new release in a few years, the song came with some news and comments to clarify a few things. On her name change, Salem Belladonna says:

“In the spirit of my new beginning, I’m going to be releasing this track under a new stage name — Salem Belladonna. I will always be Madison Chase (Baldwin), but this is the time for me to carve a new path for myself. I want to see where this rabbit hole will take me!”

About the song, Belladonna says:

“This song is about escapism. Life is hard. We all need a break sometimes. And no matter where you get that relief — whether from watching a tv show, being on social media, listening to your favorite album, using alcohol/cigarettes/etc, taking a nap, eating a cookie, or writing a song — it’s something we all crave so that we can stay sane. I think a little bit of escapism can be healthy if it helps us keep moving forward… just as long as at the end of the day, we can still look in the mirror and face our problems.”

All in all, “Escape” is a superb song and a great launch to a new era for Salem Belladonna as an artist. Perfectly balancing pointed lyrics and atmospheric music, it shows an artist confident in their work. It’s a very catchy, very atmospheric song that manages to be both confrontational and comforting in its message: some escapism is good, but too much of it is probably a bad thing. Musically, it takes you on an auditory journey as you enter this really foggy world, only for it to clear up as you’re forced to confront your inner demons. As a song, it’s a mixture of haunting beauty and super catchy pop. It’s definitely a song you should listen to via headphones, though, as it’s hard to hear just how intricately the various instruments work together through regular speakers. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who’s enjoyed any of Madison Chase’s previous work, or anybody who likes this kind of “creepy pop”/dark cabaret (think “Dresden Dolls)/atmospheric indie pop music. It’s unlike much of what you might hear in mainstream music, but it’s no less well-made. It’s an exciting start for this chapter in Salem Belladonna’s career and I’m super excited to see what she releases next.

4.5 out 5 wands

“Escape” can be heard via Salem Belladonna’s Reverbnation page.

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