Marietta clean up nicely for their sophomore effort, As It Were

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Marietta | photo via whereismarietta.bandcamp.com
Marietta | photo via whereismarietta.bandcamp.com

A long two years ago, Marietta brought their first full-length release, Summer Deathto local listeners eager to hear more than just a few demos and singles. With the death of legendary Philly twinkly emo bands Snowing and Algernon Cadwallader about two years before, the masses seemed ready to lay Philly emo to rest for a while. But Summer Death presented a fresh, revitalized take on the genre, catapulting Marietta into every basement of the city, and everyone’s heart.

Marietta specialize in high-energy live performances with an abundance of anthemic group chants. These antics landed them on gigs with indie/emo heavyweights like Braid, Old Gray, A Great Big Pile of Leaves, and Modern Baseball. But towards the end of these tours, and when the band entered the studio to record their second full length, I was left wondering “What will their next album sound like? Will it be a slump?” And I’m sure a lot of other people were asking the same question.

Well, here’s your answer: a resounding, group-chanted NO!!!!!!

I bring to you Marietta’s sophomore effort, As It WereThis is what every sophomore album wishes it could be. Everything we love about Marietta is turned up to 11 on this record. The rough-around-the-edges characteristics of Summer Death have been rounded out. The mixes are clearer. The vocals are front and center with the guitar instead of buried in the back, and the mathy guitar work is all the more impressive. Best of all, the songs, with their multiple tempo-shifting passages, are groovier than ever.

“Pony Up” opens the album, a familiar song that I remember hearing way back last fall. The band also released a music video for the song a few weeks ahead of the album. A gorgeous stop-and-start riff opens fire, and guitarist/vocalist Evan Lescallette’s shouts break through like wind chimes in stormy weather. His voice soars to new heights in this song, impressively leaving behind the cracking squeaks on Summer Death. 

One thing I love about Marietta is their dual vocal roles. Ethan Willard, guitarist/vocalist #2, takes the helm on just about half of the tracks, including the second one, “Beater”. Though his singing style hasn’t really changed since the last album, it’s clumsily charming, a rambling mumble that provides excellent contrast to Lescallette’s voice.

Whereas the Lescallette-led songs tend to hop and skip in a pleasantly youthful manner, Willard’s vocals tread among the more toned-down aspects of the record. “Beater” putters along in this way, showcasing some of the album’s most creative guitar work and a satisfyingly thick bass line.

The same vibe also coasts along “Are You Afraid of God? No, But I’m Afraid of You” (which, with its similar instrumentation, sounds like a sequel to beloved Summer Death track “Chase, I Hardly Know Ya”). The rolling drums of Andrew Weigel and smartly-placed interludes make this one a keeper. Graphic novel character Old Joe, who has been the subject of many Marietta songs, makes a lyrical appearance here as well.

Speaking of Wiegel’s drumming, I feel like I should digress for a second here. While studying this album, I realized that Wiegel’s patterns are some of the most original ones I’ve heard. There are few points on As It Were where you can say, “Gee, that drum fill has been used only like 1,000 times,” although that Jack Black sample in “Hawaii Five 0 Noseblunt” might be an exception. His careful attention to rhythmic detail deserves praise alone, as it sets the frenzied attitude of the band, on-stage and off.

Lescalette channels his inner Elliott Smith on “Ilai, Eli, A Lie,” – possibly a nod to Bright Eyes’ “Haligh, Haligh, a Lie, Haligh” – a sweet little all-acoustic number. The cutesy melody is accompanied by vocal rounds (that seem straight out of a Peanuts special) and a bit of piano, providing an affable resting point in the middle of the album.

“No God In New Jersey” begins as a near-perfect emulation of fellow emo contemporaries Tigers Jaw in their prime. With chunky key-of-F instrumentation and bittersweet harmonies, it’s the most driving song on As It Were, and it shows Marietta aren’t afraid of bold moves away from the fragile guitar. But don’t hold your breath – there’s plenty of those signature clean-tone Marietta breakdowns later.

The song “United Away”, which originally appeared on Marietta’s first demo, makes a return on the record. Not much has changed except the production quality, but that in itself breathes new life into the track’s bending and combing. Bassist Ben Johnson maintains his ability to dance around a steady groove on this one. The hazy closing track features sing-songy Joyce Manor melodies in an acoustic setting, with flickering female backing vocals.

Sonically speaking, Marietta don’t have anything really new to bring to the table in 2015. But what they lack in innovation, they make up for in continuity. They’ve tightened up the elements that made Summer Death such a charming debut. Lescallette and Willard now seem comfortable with their vocal ranges and offer harmonies that parallel rather than intersect.

I think the band would have been just as fine releasing another 8-song album, as there are some things that just don’t stick in your brain, like “Horse Tattoo” or “Destination Unknown (Reprise)”, or the album cover, for that matter. Yet there’s something about these tracks that feels quite cohesive, especially the acoustic-based ones that were much-needed on Summer Death. 

With As It Were, Marietta prove that their sound is quite capable of being timeless, and it doesn’t need to stray far from the beaten path to do so.

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