ALBUM: Summer Death
Angst is too often dismissed as a puerile emotion. It is politely tolerated, like the corner lunatic's ramblings, with the expectation that it will eventually subside and give way to humility and personal growth. Where contemporary music is concerned, deploying the word "angst" in describing a band's sound is not only pejorative, it's tantamount to slapping their muse in the face with a pocket Bible. The vanguard on Park Avenue, cloistered and half-asleep from eons of etudes and lullabies, will contend that no laudable musical venture is rooted in angst or unease, but is rather the product of what Wordsworth might call "emotion recollected in tranquility." To that I say Igor Stravinsky, Robert Johnson, The Smiths, and the entire jazz canon. But those folks are of less concern than the Williamsburg set, who are, I would wager, compelled by angst—a variety honed like the cuffs of skinny jeans deliberately frayed–but reluctant to admit it. All this bears mentioning because I am going to yolk Marietta to this most loaded of nouns—the angst running through their second offering, Summer Death, is palpable and persuasive—and I don't want the association to be construed as diminishing the very real achievement this record represents. Marietta's is not the mawkish, sophomoric angst that screams of revolt and permission, but the delicious kind that conjures smoking amid a snowfall in night-lit Chicago or the gut-shot sublimity of a tangerine sunset in a summer sewn with regret.
I know very little about Marietta outside of what is posted on their home base—a Bandcamp page whose title: "whereismarietta.bandcamp.com," serves only to plump the mystery shrouding this four-piece, emo-punk (their designation) ensemble from Philadelphia. Upon hearing Marietta's Summer Death for the first time you will be reminded of the band American Football, whose eponymous 1999 album (their lone full-length release) collectively served as the casual stoner's anthem for high-school girlfriends lost to college. While you think this likeness is cute and nostalgic, you expect Marietta's flavor to wilt like a gumball after a few indulgent, sugary chews. It does not. After listening to this album regularly for nearly two months I've found it to contain enough nuance and mathematical mischief to keep me, a self-knighted "discerning listener", steadily enamored. Like American Football, Marietta's guitarists pilot the fret board as if it were slicked with popcorn butter to produce glossy, chiming weaves of sound. The melodies on this album are lucid and nimble, capable of darting or altering course with the ease of those whitetail deer so prevalent in Pennsylvania. Unlike American Football, Marietta's tone never dips long into the realm of the ambient or languid. Their style is more propulsive, less subdued. Where American Football would persist with a phrase to swell its resonance, Marietta is more inclined toward generating the necessary momentum to transition, often and dynamically, between musical ideas.
Take the undulating tack of "deck wine"—a song that undergoes no less than nine substantial rhythmic shifts over the course of its four minutes and twenty seconds without ever sounding crowded or over-busy. On "deck wine" as on much of Summer Death, Marietta manages to carve out brief, meditative passages to tee-up those with more amplitude, the resulting crescendos are well earned and oftentimes exhilarating. Such a crescendo occurs near the end of "deck wine" as Marietta's front man starkly declares "Neighbors always getting younger..."; given both the musical and tonal context of the line—the singer earlier implores: "let me explode, become minimal, and disappear"—the lyric has a strange profundity to it, and is a deceptively simple way to express futility and the passage of time from the vantage of relative youth. Herein lies the rub with Marietta—their urgency is believable, not solely for its earnestness—which can be said of any ninth grade art student decked out in black—but for the talent and attentiveness that supplements it. John Steinbeck makes me care about the plight of displaced 1930's farmworkers, not because I'm particularly interested, but because he is a master storyteller who's grand talent is capable of eliciting my empathy for his subjects.
The same goes for Marietta—on its own, I don't have much interest in the ennui or angst of four kids in their late-teens or early twenties (gauging from their press photo) in suburban Philadelphia, but when that ennui or angst is framed by smart, stylistically proficient arrangements, sparkling guitars, and a vocalist with a good ear and strong convictions, I become invested enough to take time out of my day to write a review whose central premise is: Listen to Summer Death, it is a great fucking album that will mark the dawn of an exceptional modern punk band, should they ever come out of hiding.
"Get to the church light/ I need to reaffirm with God/ that I'm none of his concern."