-->
Music

Marah: If You Didn't Laugh You'd Cry

Peter Funk

The kids in Philly are back with their most assured, fun and engaging slab of urbanized heartland rock since, well, Kids in Philly.


Marah

If You Didn't Laugh You'd Cry

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2005-10-18
UK Release Date: 2005-10-17
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

So the ragged edged boys from Philly are back to confound us with yet another set of their working class sweat-covered songs. With Marah you always know that the songs will be well written slices of urban life full of alleyways, broken hearts, fishing trips, and bloody knuckles. The only heavy thinking comes before the laser hits the disc for the first time. The questions always center around what stylistic permutation the band is going to wade into. Are we going to get the budding alt-country flair of Let's Cut the Crap & Hook up Later on Tonight? Perhaps the Born to Run Americana storytelling that echoes through Kids in Philly? Could it be the bloated and completely over wrought attempt at an Oasis big time that was Float Away with the Friday Night Gods? Or will we get the solid if unremarkable reloading of 20,000 Streets Under the Sky? With Marah you can always count on two things: 1) their live show is going to blow fuses all over whatever town they're playing in (they've even shown the remarkable ability to transform the songs on Float Away with the Friday Night Gods into exciting even transcendent moments and that's saying something), and 2) their records will never live up to their take no prisoners live show. In an effort to put these two parallel lines on a path more likely to intersect, Marah decided to record If You Didn't Laugh You'd Cry live in the studio. The results are an album as satisfying as anything Marah has produced since those on-the-cusp-of-greatness days of Kids in Philly.

The first thing that you'll notice about If You Didn't Laugh You'd Cry is how comfortable it is. I don't intend a connotation of "lazy" or "settling" here, what I mean is this record (much more than Float Away with the Friday Night Gods or 20,000 Streets Under the Sky) is the sound of a band that's comfortable in its musical skin. There's no studio gimmickry, no overblown choruses, no genre experiments of any kind, instead the Bielanko brothers seem so at ease that it becomes (for the first time in a while) easy to remember that Marah is a band with a uniquely original sound; a sound that's built upon the best traits of indie rock, vintage country and classic rock.

The band is full of confidence and swagger showing an uncanny ability to infuse both mid tempo rock songs and punk infused folk (or folk infused punk if you prefer) songs with equal measures of derailed passion. Whether Marah is racing through a rock-a-billyesque rave up like "The Closer", crashing through the blistering guitar work on "The Hustle" or picking up where Paul Westerberg's best mid-tempo balladry stopped (so many years ago) on "Out of Tune", "The Dishwasher's Dreams" and "Walt Whitman Bridge", this is the sound of a band captured before they, or anyone else, could knob twiddle the exuberance out of their songs.

If You Didn't Laugh You'd Cry should be icing on the cake of a well received career full of kudos and packed concert halls. Instead it feels as if the band is just now living up to the promise of their early records. If this album was the follow up to Kids in Philly there's little doubt in my mind that Marah would be feted like My Morning Jacket is today. Both bands are working a similarly American territory; they both wear their blues based classic rock roots on their sleeves. But where My Morning Jacket has refined a signature studio sound, Marah has been all over the map. I don't think that Marah has any problems with penning excellent songs or putting on scorching live shows. No, Marah's issues have consistently (or inconsistently) been the manner in which they've decided to produce and present those songs. When you listen to a song like If You Didn't Laugh You'd Cry's "Demon of White Sadness", a wonderful dose of Marah's brand of urbanized heartland rock, be pleased that it's loose but focused; try not to dwell on what a mess it would have been on Float Away with the Friday Night Gods. With the whole album recorded in just nine non-consecutive studio days there's just not enough time to muck things up. And that's clearly a really good thing.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

Wadada Leo Smith: Najwa

Photo: Jori Grönroos (Courtesy of TUM Records)

Wadada Leo Smith mixes it up with a psychedelic group of electric power that remains spare: four electric guitars, Bill Laswell's electric bass, drums, and percussion. It sounds like a party and a whisper in alternation.

At this point, the long arc of fascinating music from trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith can't be summarized at the top of a review. He goes back to the early days of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, he has been both a student and a contemporary of masters such as Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, and Muhal Richard Abrams, and he has continued to be a vital creative force to this very day. He is entering his late 70s and shows not signs of slowing down.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Kuinka appeal to ornery Renaissance royalty with a joyous song in their infectiously fun new music video.

With the release of Americana band Kuinka's Stay Up Late EP earlier this year, the quartet took creative steps forward to deftly expand their sound into folk-pop territory. Riding in on the trend of moves made by bands like the Head and the Heart and the National Parks in recent years, they've traded in their raw roots sound for a bit more pop polish. Kuinka has kept the same singalong, celebratory vibe that they've been toting all this time, but there was a fork in the sonic highway that they boldly took this go-around. In this writer's opinion, they succeeded in once again captivating their audience, just in a respectably newfound way.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image