So often, the concept album seems like little more than an exercise in excess, as if a band’s fluid creativity is lost and to compensate they tackle a grandiose subject matter. It happened with The Decemberists on Hazards of Love. It happened with Fucked Up. The first handful of songs on David Comes To Life felt new and complimentary of the concept driving the album, but the majority of the album drowns in its obligation to the story. Until Marriage by Oryx & Crake, the last “concept” album I remember falling in love with was Hospice by The Antlers. As a listener, the reaction I have had to Marriage correlates very closely to that I had with Hospice, my favorite album of the year, however many years ago it was. I remember when The Antlers dropped Hospice, the first thing that caught me was the masterful highs and lows of the album and how brutally sad it was. It wasn’t until after many listens, I was able to come to the conclusion that the theme of depression was more strongly pronounced in the music than it was in the lyrics driving the concept. Oryx & Crake accomplish the same, nearly impossible task on Marriage. I must admit, when I heard it was a concept album about the married life, I was immediately made hesitant, but Oryx & Crake created an album that stands on its own merit, concept or no. It is lush, beautiful and pastoral. The music serves the listener first and foremost and after closer listens and deeper meditation upon the album, it hits that the concept is ingrained into what was created by Oryx & Crake.
The tunes crafted by Oryx & Crake on Marriage immediately strike a spiritual kinship with those of Broken Social Scene, just strip away the hedonism and nihilism that comes through so strongly in Broken Social Scene’s aesthetic. It is rare that I describe music as pastoral, especially from a band with such an orchestral tendency, but I cannot get away from that word as I listen to Marriage, pastoral. One of the most impressive things about Marriage is that it sounds so natural from beginning to end. The music is complex, all of the different moving pieces creating something very holistic. The album sounds as though it was divinely inspired, as if there was nothing else that Oryx & Crake could have possibly created under the circumstances. There are a vast number of influences at play on Marriage that are very discernible: the above mentioned, Broken Social Scene, Sufjan Stevens, Fleetwood Mac, but these influences never inhibit the album from maintaining a true identity from beginning to end.
The orchestral components on Marriage are also masterfully incorporated into the compositions. Orchestral pop can often become cheesy and over bombastic, as if musicians are saying, “listen to us, we can take our pop song writing one step further and throw in some strings and a brass section,” but Oryx & Crake never stumble into this pitfall. On album opener, “Strange As You Are”, the song begins with strings swelling in a beautiful, chaotic tremolo, both building upon the otherwise simple structure of the song and lending to the natural sense of the pastoral that sells the theme of the album, marriage. Marriage is as much something natural in our world as it is an institution, and Oryx & Crake communicate both this and the confusing contradictory nature of devoting oneself to another self through the swelling, beautiful, chaotic songs that span Marriage. The haunting, almost eight minute track “Too Many Things Went Wrong Too Often” communicates the struggle and pain inevitable in any marriage. On the album’s single “Hold Hands For Dry Land” the simultaneous joy and confusion so common in marriage manifest itself in the most upbeat display by Oryx & Crake across the whole album.
Marriage is an album that is going to stick with me for a long time. Many different emotions are displayed so honestly across the album that it can be listened to under just about any circumstance. Oryx & Crake have achieved the rare feat of making an album that is both catchy and beautiful from beginning to end. They have also created a very deft analysis and meditation of the married life of the millennial, doing so through music first and narration second.
– Review By: Taylor James
Check out the video below from Oryx & Crake’s “The World Will Take Care Of Me” that stars Rebekah & Ryan Peoples son, made this summer by the kids of Atlanta nonprofit re:imagaine/ATL at their Green Room video camp.
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