Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hey Marseilles, Miracles of Modern Science (MEEMS)

As soon as I heard about this week's respective profilees, I was itching to review them in tandem, due to their mutual appropriation of folk foundations into unique and interesting rock-oriented applications. And thanks to this week's full album stream of Lines We Trace from the Seattle indie folk / chamber rock sextet Hey Marseilles, I now have that opportunity.

Hey Marsailles
New Release: Lines We Trace
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Record Label: Onto Entertainment
Sounds Like: Oh, No! Oh, My! (NMT), Hey Rosetta! (NMT), The Decemberists (NMT, NMT), Miracles of Modern Science (NMT)
Location: Seattle, Wash.

While I've only very recently become aware of this group – via a tip from NMT contributor Eileen Can (NMT, NMT) – I'm instantly glad I didn't have to miss any more than their 2008 debut, Travels & Trunks, although that was one ambitious effort. After steadily building their fanbase and unrecorded repertoire since then, the dozen tracks of their sophomore record more than hold serve in maintaining the group's signature complexity and assertiveness. The assemblage of strings, horns, accordions and organs all layered atop a hearty folk foundation hits at the center of your blogger's wheelhouse of musical preferences. Meanwhile, frontman Matt Bishop possesses as demanding a voice as you'll find in non-mainstream music, residing in tone closest to Oh, No! Oh, My's Greg Barkley, but in demeanor more like The Decemberists' Colin Meloy or Great Big Sea's Sean McCann (NMT) – compelling you to pay rapt attention through urgency and inflection.

I'd be absolutely giddy about the cohesiveness and comprehensiveness of this collection but for a few drawbacks: 1) I feel groups of this numerical stature should have at least one female member, especially to provide some vocal variety, and 2) the material's overall a little slow, with no single track capturing the steady gallop of "Cannonballs," the Latin-fueled playfulness of "Rio" or the increasingly epic "Calabasas" – all off Travels & Trunks. Still, Lines We Trace is no less lush than its predecessor and remains exquisitely arranged, which fills in the sort of lags in pace for which I've dinged recent reviewees. (Please note: listen to all tracks off Lines We Trace via Paste Magazine's streaming player until the album is released on March 5, when links will be updated here)

Come for: "Elegy" (hints of pop lightness, with strings alternating from precise plucking to swirling, sweeping bows; belies the lyrical pessimism; wafting organ paired with foreboding strings at the close)
Stay for: "Dead Of Night" (surprisingly sprightly at times; strong use of the noble, if uncertain voyager archetype)
You'll be surprised by: "Bright Stars Burning" (probably should be the song they should be promoting first here, as it's the record's most accessible concept and song structure; first of several tracks where drummer Colin Richey stands out; most rock-oriented on the album)
Solid efforts: "Tides" (a wonderfully warm instrumental intro); "Heart Beats" (thundering percussion rolls are the number's hallmarks; strongly recalls The Decemberists' "Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect" in its diverging tempos and intensity); "Building Glare" (elaborate, intricate, baroque); "Madrona" (instrumental featuring pianist Philip Kobernik and brothers Samuel (cello) and Jacob (viola) Anderson is simple, yet inviting); "Hold Your Head" (Bishop's most nimble lyricism on this collection; musically understated); "Rainfall" (folksy; appropriately Seattleite; file between Meloy's "Record Year for Rainfall" and Essex Green's "Sorry River" for a rainy day playlist); "Looking Back" (satisfyingly alternately ambitious and measured in tone); "Cafe Lights" (starts slowly, but the strings and accordion here make for the album's most interesting arrangements on its longest track [6:07]); "Demian" (another piano and strings instrumental, ideally positioned in the closing spot)
Meh: I liked 'em all
Skip to next track: ditto

Miracles of Modern Science
New Release: MEEMS (EP)

Release Date: February 19, 2013
Record Label: self-released
Sounds Like: Rural Alberta Advantage (NMT, NMT), DeVotchKa (NMT), Farewell Drifters (NMT, NMT), They Might Be Giants (NMT)
Location: New York, N.Y.

Since the latest work of this quirky, nerdy folk quintet is only a half-portion offering, this will be a similarly brief assessment. The group returns with an approach closely tacking to what made their December 2011 debut (NMT) such an unusual and enjoyable affair: acoustic stringed instruments utilized more as rock vessels than tools of folk matched with crafty lyrics.

Come for: "The Singularity" (ahh, here's that familiar nerd rock from their first outing; could be a new Big Bang Theory theme song with the mentions of nanobots and transcending biology)
Stay for: "Physics Is Our Business" (fantastically frenetic instrumental with a requisite spoken word sample from a mad physicist)

You'll be surprised by: "Don't You See?" (unexpectedly dark and serious for this band)
Solid efforts: "Ahem" (the most folksy track they've produced to date, especially with Josh Hirshfeld's leading mandolin work; the penny whistle touch later on is fun); "Dear Pressure" (a witty rebuke of the risk-adverse and ambivalent: "That was a killer show / Makes sense to take it on the road / Not me! I can't afford the risk / You tour, I'm on the mailing list;" are there hints of distortion pedals among the manic jerkiness of violinist Kieran Ledwidge and cellist Geoff McDonald?)
Skip to next track: "Breather" (doesn't really count at 00:19)