Welcome to the Madhouse

Tones and I

(Digital Download - Elektra / Parlophone #075679782076)

Review by Matt Collar

The effusive debut full-length album from Australia's Toni Watson (aka Tones and I), 2021's Welcome to the Madhouse finds her further expanding the uplifting electronic pop she first showcased on her 2019 EP The Kids Are Coming. With her cherubically buoyant voice and outsider attitude, Watson makes infectious Top 40-friendly songs with enough of a personally distinctive point of view that they often feel like she's singing directly to her fans and from her own experience. This personal touch extends to her production, which, while primarily just featuring Watson playing keyboards and crafting beats, often evokes the spare kineticism of Latin and reggaeton artists. Cuts like the opening title track, "She Won't Sleep," and "Fly Away" are rhythmically infectious tunes built around sinewy, montuno-esque keyboard and percussion patterns that Watson builds with increasing intensity toward her hooky and robust choruses. Elsewhere, she strikes a nice balance between R&B balladry and finger-snap-accented '50s pop on "Lonely." It's a style that falls nicely in between her contemporaries Billie Eilish and Halsey. She also brings to mind Sia with her ability to combine mainstream pop hooks with lyrics that feel like she's working through trauma. On "Cloudy Day" (a song written in the wake of the death of her friend footballer Ben Tournier in a car crash), she ruminates on trying to live in the now, singing "And am I wiser?/For holding close the friends I make/But if I'm wise, then why this feeling/Of a trial that I can't shake?" Watson does shake her trials loose throughout Welcome to the Madhouse, turning her inner fears into outsized pop anthems.

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