For the sporadically great, occasionally frustrating Marah, drama has been as much a part of the Philly band’s repertoire over the past 12 years as their lyrical references to the City of Brotherly Love. After the one-two punch of 1998’s Let’s Cut The Crap And Hook Up Later On Tonight and 2000’s epochal Kids In Philly, Marah seemed like a band with limitless potential, but for a variety of reasons (questionable stylistic decisions and inter-band squabbling most prominent), they have struggled over the ensuing years to build upon those early successes. After the unexpected abandonment of three key members, not to mention the amicable departure of co-founder Serge Bielenko to be a father, the two and a half years since the release of 2008’s Angels of Destruction! have been particularly tumultuous. For lead singer/songwriter Dave Bielenko, it was time to retreat deep into the country of his native Pennsylvania with keyboardist Christine Smith to figure out what happens next.
Life Is A Problem, the band’s 7th studio album and first to be self-released on their brand new Valley Farm Songs label, aims to be a back-to-basics folk/rock record in the vein of their freewheeling early days. It’s been clear for a long time that loose, raw, devil-may-care folk rock is what they do best, and Life Is A Problem possesses the same ramshackle swagger that has always marked their best material. Whether it’s on slow-building, banjo & electric guitar epics like “Tramp Art” and “Life Is A Problem”, stripped-down rockers like “Valley Farm Song” and “Put ‘Em In The Graveyard”, or barroom folk ballads like “Within The Spirit Sagging”, “High Water”, and “Together Not Together” this new record is the most consistent set of songs Marah has strung together since Kids In Philly. It’s a dense, gloriously dysfunctional collection that’s seems unconcerned with label or fan expectations, and for that, it’s all the better. I’ve been a die-hard fan of this band since forever, and this is (finally!) the record I’ve been waiting for Marah to make for the past ten years. Well worth the wait.