Marmalakes EP: In Arnica

I go to a lot of shows. Not as many as some, I’m sure, but I shoot for at least one live show a week, and I often overshoot. Live music in small venues by local bands is usually characterized by a desire to rock out, and since people want to get drunk and dance and be generally crazy on their nights out, bands want to feed off that energy. At the venues on Red River and East 6th (and Skinny’s and 29th St Ballroom and the like), slow or quiet acts don’t tend to fare as well because that energy is hard to cultivate with that music in that setting. And yet, Marmalakes continues to get softer and quieter (on record at least) and their popularity just increases.

Last year’s Even Clothed mellowed out the group’s sound after 2010’s Wonder Winds, indulging in a softer sound that showcased Chase Weinacht’s lyrics and the group’s rich chords and harmonies. The songs still had movement to them. Even a slow-burner like “Red Metal Rescue” got big and anthemic in the middle to keep the audience engaged. When they released “White Height” on the split 7″ with the Sour Notes earlier this year, I thought they were embracing the pull toward loud and energetic as the song rocked out with thick distortion and crashing drums. Marmalakes apparently had other ideas, though.

Marmalakes - 'Septimus Warren Smith'

In Arnica pulls back the reins dramatically. This might be the quietest record I’ve heard in a long time. The drums are played with brushes, if at all. The arrangements breathe with sometimes only one instrument playing at a time, and the band isn’t afraid to play with space, indulging in moments of silence from time to time. All of this, though, has the effect drawing the listener in even more intensely. You really have to pay attention to this music in order to appreciate its sophistication, and when you do you’re rewarded with colorful and unexpected chords, smart lyrics, and vocal interplay the band hasn’t fully embraced on record before.

As the music gets softer, it also is evident that this band is more of a cohesive whole than ever before. It’s not two good musicians supporting Weinacht’s crafty songwriting; these compositions are the result of a group that trusts one another and is confident in their abilities.

The final product here is largely hookless – even when there are repeated motifs, they can hardly be considered earworms. This isn’t passive music for passive listeners; it doesn’t make your job as a music consumer easy. But the rewards are that much greater because it compels you to invest in it. And then you notice the little things, like how each of the three band members voices always appear in the same place in the stereo pan across all four songs in the album. Or you hear the way the vocal parts bounce around on “Septimus Warren Smith” and marvel at how proficient a band has to be in order to make such beautiful music.

You can currently stream “Canvases of Lakes” on the group’s bandcamp page. The whole album will be available for streaming on April 24th, and then available for purchase on May 1st. And mark your calendars for their May 5th CD release party at the Scottish Rite Theater with Dana Falconberry and Grace Park!

– Carter