Album Review: Brume, Marten

brume marten

Albums like Marten happen neither every year nor for every band. For Brume, it is their third full-length behind 2019’s Billy Anderson-produced Rabbits (review here) and 2017’s Rooster (review here), their second release through Magnetic Eye Records, and their first outing since the three-piece of vocalist/bassist/keyboardist Susie McMullan, guitarist/vocalist Jamie McCathie (ex-Gurt) and drummer Jordan Perkins Lewis welcomed cellist/vocalist Jackie Perez Gratz (GrayceonGiant SquidAmber Asylum, etc.) to an expanded lineup. Gratz had appeared on Rabbits as well, doing a cello guest spot (as will happen) for that record’s centerpiece, “Blue Jay,” which was both shorter than everything that surrounded it, but able to breathe in its own way with the melodic textures of its arrangement, also including keys and harmonized vocals.

It’s not impossible to read “Blue Jay” as the model Brume are following on Marten, which takes its name from the small, weasel-ish animal taxidermied on the fancy chair of its cover, and which finds the band working with producer Sonny DiPerri (MizmorEmma Ruth RundleLord Huron, etc.) and directed in sound more toward atmosphere and breadth than directness of impact, though there’s plenty of that too. Fluid in its storytelling lyric, opening track “Jimmy” unfolds mournfully with soft guitar and cello at its start before the bass and drums join, McMullan immediately putting the listener in the narrative’s place, time and mental state with the lines, “Jimmy rise from the basement/Jimmy rise from the grave,” at the start of the first verse while Lewis slowly cycles through tom thuds and punctuating snare, giving some hint of the sweeping chorus to come, McCathie and Gratz joining on vocals as the corresponding wall of tone and crash-laden roll takes hold, “You raise your glass to freedom/You raise your glass to family/Now you’re fast, too fast, to leave us/My wrath will not be well contained.”

This all takes place before the first three minutes of the first song on a 48-minute eight-tracker LP are done, and not one second of what follows is less graceful or purposeful in its delivery, arrangement and performance, less cognizant of mood, or dynamic. Marten in some ways redefines the course of Brume‘s growth as it builds on what the band has accomplished up to now, but there’s also an engagement with pop in the lyrical voices throughout “New Sadder You,” “Faux Savior” and “How Rude,” taking on subjects like grief, joining a cult and the climate crisis, respectively, in language that feels pointedly not-inflated, conversational and modern. Where another given outfit might get lost in grandiosity, particularly to accompany the melancholic drift of later pieces like “Run Your Mouth” or “The Yearn,” which comprise the closing salvo, Brume resonate all the more for the humanity and specifically at times for the femininity of this perspective. And so the forlorn love poetry of “The Yearn” is presented not as quotes from Greek philosophy or whatever, but in clear, efficient and down-to-earth lines like, “Drowning here/Heart is for real.”

brume (Photo by Jamie McCathie)

One might say the same of how “New Sadder You” is framed. The chorus, “I invite you to greet new sadder you/Because you take pain with you/With you till the end/When your memories are through/Mix joy and despair, anger fast on the move,” is a standout among songs that, while varied enough in structure and atmosphere to not all be about their choruses, have nonetheless been thoughtfully crafted, and as one of Marten‘s most soaring moments, the conversation is grounded and the same point of view that borders on sarcasm in “Faux Savior” as it namedrops a celebrity spiritual advisor and pines for “A proper fraud with fortitude and frost” — the alliteration’s burn in the direction of toxic YouTube-guru influencer masculinity — uses the melody to sweeten the threat on male ego fragility in “Run Your Mouth”: “Words won’t save you/I’ve got all night,” and gives Mother Earth the name Drucilla on “How Rude” as Laurie Sue Shanaman (Ludicra, Ails) adds raw-throated backing screams to the apex-bound build, feeling worlds away from three gentler-but-not-entirely-undoomed nod and bright three-part vocal harmonies of “Otto’s Song,” ending side A with a lullaby just a track prior.

Shanaman returns on the subsequent “Heed Me” as well, lending aural claw to the lines “Can you hear my memories?” and “What can you do for me?” at the ends of the last verses in harsh complement to the melody, but well positioned at the start of side B, which is on average less voluminous than “Jimmy,” “New Sadder You” or the gospel-spiritual plod of “Faux Savior” earlier, and enough of a surprise when they kick in with the first-stage surge of “How Rude” at 4:16 — the second stage hits at 4:44 with “We scream, the earth cracks” — that the listener has less of an idea of what’s coming as they move into “Heed Me,” “Run Your Mouth” and “The Yearn,” the last of which completes Marten on a flowing roll of crash and airy post-metallic lead guitar taking off from the last chorus, in which the cello plays rhythm the bass, gradually moving into its echoing fade. Not that one imagines throatrippers arising from that last gorgeous wash of tone and swaying motion, but you never know and shifting expectation is part of the point, along with emotive expression no less weighted than whichever of the most lumbering riffs you might want to set it beside.

And that heft of emotion extends to the ambience of pieces like “Run Your Mouth” or “New Sadder You” as well, whether it’s McMullan or McCathie doing lead vocals or trading as they do between the final verse and chorus of “New Sadder You,” Gratz lending her significant reach to the ending of “How Rude,” or the lush safe-space created in “Otto’s Song” even after the bass and drums join in to nudge it into a forward march. Across the span of MartenBrume declare themselves as many things in terms of sound, most but not all of them leaning toward a darkness or somberness of mood, but they’re more assured than ever of who they are as a band working in new sonic dimensions of length, width, height and depth, and ‘The Yearn” indeed makes you believe the heart behind it all is for real. That’s an achievement in itself, but still only a fraction of what puts Marten so much on its own level, both for Brume and in whichever microgenre tag might ultimately fail to encapsulate their work here.

Brume, Marten (2024)

Brume, “How Rude” official video

Brume, “Jimmy” official video

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