Mariage Blanc - Broken Record
Record Label: None
Release Date: October 21, 2008
During the cold winter months, especially once the holidays are over, I tend to seek out that one record that's able get me through. Last year, I relied heavily on Steel Train's Trampoline. Released the previous fall, it provided the perfect mix of somber ballads and lighthearted jingles. It wasn't overly sunny, but laid-back enough to make troubles seem to fade and the stressors of the season seem a little less significant. This year, there's an unlikely contender to fill that role: Broken Record, the debut EP from Pittsburgh's Mariage Blanc.
At seven tracks and twenty-seven minutes in length (temporally in line with Dustin Kensrue's Please Come Home, which was billed as a full length), it's a generous offering, and what a fine dose of relaxed indie-pop it is. There's a close resemblance to the Clientele in the warm harmonies of Matt Ceraso and Josh Kretzmer, while their music exhibits various influences from around the indie-rock world, a touch of folkiness (though not enough for it to be considered alt-country), and the occasional inflection of brass and strings. It's a remarkably winning combination for a band in its relative infancy.
We're introduced to the band with "Contrary to Popular Belief," a song with a vibe that's haunting at the outset before ending with peppy guitars. Then, there's the classic guitar-pop sound of "Off White Noise," which bears a strong resemblance to the aforementioned Steel Train album. "Marquee" features the clever coupling of keyboard, which primarily drives the song, with strings, which dominate the track's bridge. One of Mariage Blanc's major strengths on this record is in their apt usage of varied instrumentation. The inclusion of trumpet, cello and piano never sound whimsical, but almost necessary when they arise.
A day as gray as that depicted on the album's cover art would make the perfect setting for the lonely acoustic number, "Concrete Face," a stylistic curveball on a record full of delightful curveballs. "Oh, the Humanity!" finds the clouds receding before rays of sunshine, in the form of the song's playful piano jaunt. The trumpets rise to a mournful swell on "Sunken Ship" over lyrics lamenting words that should have been left unspoken. The closer, "Famous Last Words," brings everything together into one neat five-minute package, including some guitar work that's Jeff Tweedy-esque, though merely in tone, not in his penchant for deconstruction.
When it's all said and done, there's really not much more you could ask for from a record like this. It's varied, yet still manages to sound focused. There's a lot going on, yet it's easy to listen to and not exhausting in the least. It's an amazingly promising debut and my only hope is that enough people catch on to Mariage Blanc's beautifully melodic indie-rock that the band can continue to make music, because if this is just the beginning, I can't wait to hear what's to come.