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Photo by Frank Correa

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Listening to Lilac, the solo electronic project of Seattle musician/artist/fashion empress Madeline Franks, is an out-of-body experience. Much like her visual art (vibrant collage, assemblage and wild jewelry) and personal aesthetic (Franks works as a vintage buyer and puts together outfits that qualify as works of art), Lilac’s music is a surreal dreamscape. Layers of ethereal synths float over intricate beats, braiding together with Frank’s crystalline vocals. The effect is hypnotizing.

With two recordings on cassette tape, 2015’s Dream Journal and the upcoming You Can Call Me Papa, out Aug. 27, Franks has been creating and performing music under the name Lilac since 2014. Originally from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Franks lived in Chicago where she sang and played synthesizer in a band called Children of Kids before making the move to Seattle. Seeking a change from the Midwest, she heard good things about Seattle and made the jump.

Seattle’s music scene turned out to be ideal for nurturing Lilac. She found friends in the DIY community and gigs at underground venues among mixed bills of punk, experimental and hip-hop. Given the array of influences on her music—her father is also a musician and she grew up singing and playing piano in a house filled with music; Madonna’s You Can Dance was the first album she played on repeat and her older brother showed her bands like Daft Punk and Pink Floyd—the city’s eclectic environment suits her.

“Personally though, I identify with expressing myself through electronic music,” Franks says. “It feels the best.”

Speaking of dads, one of Franks’ friends started calling her “papa” when they were working together, and the surprise of the epithet lead to the new album’s title. Beyond that, Franks says that You Can Call Me Papa’s flip of gender norms is especially relevant at this point in her life.

“Through making the album, I went through a shift in my identify with understanding queerness—my own queerness and what that means, and actually starting to identify that way. And also just wanting to be sassy.” She laughs: “Empowerment, you know.”

Empowerment resonates through You Can Call Me Papa’s six tracks. Written during the election cycle, the album is divided between themes of love—self-love, love for others and the complexity of relationship dynamics in general—and politics and power dynamics. “Pretty much a fuck you to the patriarchy,” Franks says. “I think that femininity has been oppressed for so long in so many ways, and now it’s starting to reverse, and it’s causing all of these shifts in peoples’ consciousness. Either people are down for the change, or they’re resisting because it’s scary and they don’t want to get out of their comfort zone.”

Opener “Deer in a Forest” moves like an ominous bank of clouds; tracks like “Endless Game” and “Walking in a Maze” feel like atmospheric puzzles, a combination of the song titles. Elsewhere, unbroken synth lines create a wall of sound—if the wall was made of floral-patterned fog. Closing track “Do What You Feel” is the album’s most danceable. Catchy drum sequences frame a silvery melody and Franks’ voice soars as her lyrics come into focus: “Socialized to suppress/Feelings of loneliness/Feeling anything at all.”

“I came to a point where I just didn’t want to be polite, or be a certain way because of how we’ve been conditioned,” Franks says. “It’s okay to stand up for how you feel.”

Lilac celebrates the release of You Can Call Me Papa with DoNormaal, Briana Marela and Toya B on Sunday, Aug. 27 at Werewolf Vacation; on Sept. 6 Lilac plays ArtAche Market at Chop Suey with Qoqo Roboqs, Magical Eyes and Idol Trash.  

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