Marah :: Angels of Destruction!

The blazing folk-rock, dizzying street poetics, and vintage Philly soul of Marah’s Let’s Cut The Crap And Hook Up Later On Tonight and Kids In Philly, as well as their hard-earned reputation as a transcendent live act, set an early level of promise for the band that they’ve never fully lived up to. Those hoping the band’s brand new Angels Of Destruction! would change that are most likely going to be disappointed. I use the word “disappointed” with reservation, as any reader of this blog knows how much I adore this band, and each of their last 3 albums have had plenty of great moments. But that’s how I feel sitting here listening to these new songs. I guess first impressions filtered through crappy computer speakers from crappy audio streams don‘t necessarily last.

Angels Of Destruction!’s biggest problem is one that has hampered the band since Float Away With The Friday Night Gods - their arrangements are often cluttered and over-produced. Here, a newly sober Dave Bielenko and the band come storming out of the gates with the pulsing rocker “Coughing Up Blood” - a would-be thesis statement for the album with its allusions to angels, redemption, and sobriety. The flashing guitars and driving rhythm sound fantastic, but are layered against not one but two unfortunate backing vocal tracks. The arrangement actually made my girlfriend and I look at each other for a moment in stunned disbelief. Then we started laughing. Yes, laughing. Sorry Marah. Similar aesthetic mistakes haunt most of the potentially good songs on the first half of AOD!, with every good idea seemingly matched by a handful of poor ones.

There are a few other issues I have with this record, as well as Marah’s past few - the first being the emergence of Serge Bielenko as a co-lead singer. With an established vocalist as seasoned and dynamic as Dave Bielenko in the band, there’s no need to ever have someone else take the role, especially when said “singer” can’t carry a tune. I don’t care who wrote the lyrics. Also, the band’s odd tendency to invent words and/or phrases has become really distracting. First of all, the line “you kick in with the subtle of potassium”, from “The Apartment” on the last album, doesn’t make any sense. This album's otherwise pretty "Blue But Cool" uses the extremely clumsy "words" 'foreeverness', 'infatuationness', 'apartmentness', and 'familiness'. Excuse me? I know I’m no Bill Shakespeare here, but c’mon guys. You can, and have, done much better - older gems like “Faraway You” and “Round Eye Blues” are perfect examples of modern lyrical genius.

These gripes are tough love though, not disillusionment. Fortunately, hidden on the record’s back half are a handful of stand-out tracks that make the record worthwhile for long-time fans and beginners. “Santos de Madera” is to this record what “Spanish Bombs” was to London Calling - an unexpected and successful stab at Spanish sounding music incorporated into a near perfect rock n’ roll song. The title track (featured below) and “Can’t Take It With You” also do their parts to salvage the album’s messy beginning. The former is a soaring and melodic folk-rock anthem that captures everything the band does well, the latter a genuinely soulful street march that deftly intertwines horns and banjo. These songs show that Marah, when allowing their songs some much needed room to breathe, are as impressive as any band on the planet.

Marah left their Philadelphia hometown earlier this decade in search of inspiration, and not surprisingly have sounded somewhat lost ever since. They’ve always been at their best when keeping things simple. It’s not surprising that their best songs over the past 7 years, “Walt Whitman Bridge” and “Pigeon Heart”, are the ones with the fewest frills. Both are radiant folk-rock songs with soaring melodies. And no clutter. I respect the band's decision to consistently explore new sounds and toy with expectation, but maybe it’s time to move on home.

MP3 :: Angels of Destruction
(from Angels of Destruction! Buy here)

Stream :: Various Tracks

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is a great review of what is wrong with this cd