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Music Review: Marah – Life is a Problem

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In a 2009 interview, Marah frontman David Bielanko talked openly about his recurring quest to recapture the magic made on the band’s first record, Let's Cut the Crap & Hook Up Later on Tonight. A lofty challenge, indeed, but it is one that Bielanko has met before and the latest offering, Life Is A Problem is definitely chock full of the ol’ Marah magic.

Without wasting time, Bielanko and his right hand partner, Christine Smith (the last man, I mean, woman standing from the last Marah lineup) go right back to where it all started for Marah, literally, by re-recording “Muskie Moon,” a hillbilly-ed up bonus track from their rookie album. The new version is far from a cheap remake of the original. It's darker and reflective and placing the song in the number one slot on the album makes it both a poignant look back at the history of the band and an honest look forward.

From there, the record spins through a series of back woods barnburners, lo-fi production wonders, cymbal crashes, random horn honks, masterful progression changes and buckets of gutsy vocals. “Valley Farm Song” pairs a fantastic guitar groove with traditional Irish fiddle melodies and Smith’s subtle piano and harmony on “Within the Spirit Sagging” help it sound like it can pass as one of the Beatles’ better takes on old timey melody.

The stunning title track starts up from nowhere and builds the way the better Wilco works do. But Marah doesn’t follow the path into alt-country experimentation. Instead they break out the Phil Spectorish chimes and castanets and crack on them until the song resolves into the joyous chorus line, “Life Is A Problem.” The pairing of this solemn observation and blissful melody stuns the same way “Born To Run” does and demands repeated plays.

The album closes with the hidden track, “Colfax Avenue,” a raucous rocker that puts guitars and attitude up front and vocals in the back. Replacements and Dexter Romweber fans will find it hard not to appreciate Bielanko’s balance as he walks the line between sloppy mess and punked up precision. During a break, Dave slyly asks, “How ya like me now?” We like ya. And your album is pretty damn good too. Righteous, man. Righteous.

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