Saturday, March 26, 2011

Marble Index: Marble Index

In "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)" Neil Young famously warbled, over rough-clanging Crazy Horse guitars that "Rock and roll will never die," and after all these years, that's still true. No matter what happens, there will always be a fresh crop of young rock and rollers. There's just something so appealing about picking up a guitar in your garage, fingers on the frets, pick hammering strings, that generation after generation of suburban youths keep discovering how to make it work for them -- even as rebellious coolness shifts over to hip hop. I think the difference is, to be an MC, you have to be good with words. To be a rocker, you've really just got to be loud.

That said, if you are good at guitars, and loud and pissed off enough at the world and yourself, you might come up with something as good as Marble Index's self-titled debut from 2005.

For 42 minutes, this longplayer brings fresh, pulse-pounding, undiluted rock to your ears. Despite boasting an incredibly lush guitar sound, it manages to sound very stripped down, avoiding lame production tricks a lot of hot radio acts use to disguise the fact that they can't craft a hook -- you know them when you hear them. Marble Index never has to strain, and gets maximum mileage out of their work. Take the head-bobbingly simple wail of the opening track "I Believe," the burbling bass intro to "We Can Make It," or the blustery "On The Phone." Any number of these tracks, you'll swear have been around for years longer than they have. The band manages the unlikely feat of putting together a number of great songs that sound like they've just spontaneously formed themselves from a jam. Bloody hell, does it work. This is what rock sounds like when you imagine it, yet far too rarely when you actually hear it.

The album contains a great sense of urgency, never forgetting that it exists in the present tense. They play with great rhythm, driven by Adam Knickle's killer drums, but with a hell of an overtime shift by Brad Germain on vocals and guitars. I find it difficult to believe there's only one person playing guitar on here, although it's probably the bass is just that good too. Germain's vocals have a real charm. He sounds defiant yet optimistic on "I Believe" and "We Can Make It," weak and wanting on "Not So Bright" and the breathless "This Book," (killer lyric: "You don't ever call but I suspect you really want to",) defeated and frustrated on "Days Seem Longer" (which you may feel you vaguely already remember as a classic with its "Weakling for your love" refrain,) and "I Die." He adds the right amount of angst to the proceedings, effortless (and lordy do I ever hate fakey-sounding pretend-angst) and unafraid to let himself get ridiculously sloppy with his own lyrics. Seriously, you can only make out about half, maybe a third of the lyrics here. The rest are virtually unarticulated due to losing control of his own larynx. I chalk it up to a Joe Strummer influence, which can't be a bad thing. He sounds utterly committed to expressing himself, so that the words aren't always as important as the tone. The guitars back this up, foregoing simple, easily-hummed hooks for great rocky noise.

What we have here then, is a 12-song set that is most definitely meant to be played live, to be physically interacted with. A lot of the time, it feels like the guys in the band are right there next to you, you can hear the crackle in the air near the amps on songs like "On The Phone." Excellent production to match the supercharged playing, that's for sure. And although they don't shy away from the crash-bang assault music, they're really a nimble bunch of musicians, tweaking the balance of hooks and riffs and jangles and chords, playing the vocals up or down according to their importance. As it was released during the changeover between "neo-garage" (Strokes, White Stripes) and "Britrock" (Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand,) it doesn't seem like it came out of a trend, or like it depends on being heard at a certain place or time (*although ideally, you are a pissed-off teenager or twentysomething.) This type of music has a low ceiling/high floor type of quality. If it seems too basic, then it's really not gonna work for you, but for guys like me that just like awesome-sounding loud music, it can't go wrong.

If there are problems with the record, they're the dark side of its selling points. Despite each individual song's quality, the constant sonic assault may wear thin on the listener and cause them to tune out of some of the better mid- or late-album tracks. Everything between "This Book" and "I Die" might fall into wallpaper, despite being a solid collection of tracks. The album, surprisingly, rewards a lot of repeat listening to correct this, as you begin to anticipate the early tracks, you let yourself gain interest in the later tracks. It makes for good driving music. It's gritty and it's powerful, and it isn't desperate to go out of its way to show you how deep it's meant to be... which is actually pretty deep.

The annoying thing is, as good as the record is, quality may not be a recipe for a hit. "I Believe" maybe have been a great tune, but it doesn't have that radio-ready sound that has helped lesser bands attain multitudes more popularity than Marble Index ever had. The fact that they managed to get more of that sound on their second record, without sacrificing any awesomeness, and it doesn't seem to have worked, proves how unjust the music world can be sometimes.

Enjoy good bands, people.

Buy this album from iTunes now!

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