This week: Marah’s blue-collar folk-punk, The Double’s noise-music dichotomy, and Yayo’s bling-bling malfunction
Utilizing an unclassifiable mix of instruments—acoustic guitar, banjo, accordion, honky-tonk piano, handclaps and various sound effects—Marah comes off like a modern barbershop quartet that smoked a doobie, listened to Wilco and the Rolling Stones, and wrote some groovy songs that live up to their invented “folk punk” moniker. Brothers Serge and Dave Bielanko, with a rotating cast of extras, have been making music for more than 10 years, resulting in four records, the newest of which the brothers call their most personal.
Recorded in mere days, If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry embraces the laid-back attitude assumed by musicians weary of their overproduced back catalog. Interspersed handclaps, barking dogs, a drunken phone call, and other found sounds integrate naturally as the diegetic effects that lend realism to the fabric of the disc as a live recording. On the band’s website, marah-usa.com, Serge writes that If You Didn’t Laugh is “about the bittersweet feeling of recognizing yourself as a fucked-up, dysfunctional, frightened, curious, sex-starved, jealous, loving, vengeful, financially strapped drinking buddy, lover and human being.” Even if you didn’t read the bio, Marah’s self-effacing honesty rises to the surface like the frothy head on a 5 o’clock beer. By turns goofy and sensitive, Serge and Dave are guys’ guys divining a universal soundtrack reflecting a chummy, working-class band of brothers and sisters.
Just as the thought vaporizes, a meditative voice sings “up all night,” and you realize the show has already begun. The tinkering tightens to punctuate the vocal melody until the song breaks wide open, filling the room with cymbals and distorted guitar. You take a step back, thinking you should have brought your earplugs. This is the opening track to The Double’s Loose in the Air .
There is an element of these first moments spent with The Double throughout its 10-song album, the Brooklyn quartet’s third full-length release and its first for Matador. The band draws you in with contemplative vocal melodies and moody chordal keyboard parts, then it cranks the amps and pushes you against the back wall with distortion, sometimes forsaking the melodic structure for guitar noise. But each time the songs begin to slip into self-indulgence, the band catches itself and reclaims its footing with straightforward rock ‘n’ roll hooks.
As the band takes more chances, increasingly adventurous sounds settle comfortably into the fabric of the album. The ideas of Interpol and Pavement that had crossed your mind earlier pass away as you near its end, culminating in two unforced, individualistic songs that patiently earn their climaxes and more impressively distinguish the dark and driving sound of The Double.
So make no mistake about it—Yayo has earned his stripes. That’s about all he’s good for.
Yayo had the opportunity to do something rare on this album. He’s one of the few mainstream rappers who can give us an intimate look at life in a cell. But for a guy who spent a little over a year in prison on outstanding weapons charges, Yayo presents us with remarkably few details about what that might be like. Sure, there are a few references to convict life here and there, warnings about snitchers and talk of lonely masturbation to fan mail. But it’s rare and seems to be mostly a reminder—in case you happened to forget the CD cover.
Instead, gravely voice in tow, Yayo trudges lethargically through 17 cliché-filled tracks. Sociopathic murder ballads? Gold-plated AKs? Dropping bombs like Hiroshima? Slinging coke on corners? Guest appearances by half a dozen label mates? It’s all here, but it’s all been done better elsewhere.
Yayo is fortunate enough to have production by Eminem, Dre and Timbaland, and a couple of guest spots by 50 Cent. Other than that, you’re better off just watching Oz on HBO.