Look no further.
Two weeks into 2008, and we may already have ourselves the first great record of the year in Marah's great new album Angels Of Destruction!. Actually, I take that back. This IS the first great record of 2008.
The thing I can't quite figure out about it however, is whether the record is a bonafide masterpiece, or simply the happy accident that it sounds like so much of the time.
In fact, Angels of Destruction! both feels and sounds at times like Marah's Highway 61 Revisited (the bluesy swagger of "Wild West Love Song"), while at others, it more recalls the loose, druggy groove of the Stones Exile On Main Street (though in Marah's case, I'd suspect the drug fueling said groove is more likely good old fashioned booze, than anything as sinister as Sister Morphine).
Either way, you certainly could do a lot worse in the way of points of influence. And Angels of Destruction! grooves for its forty seven minutes and eleven songs like nothing so much as one of those greasy juke joints that seem to populate so many of the songs here.
The thing is, as good as 2005's If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry was (and it was damn good), on this album Marah pull off the seemingly impossible task of sounding like a much fuller band, while at the same time maintaining a much looser sound that comes closer to their live performances. Perhaps it's the fact that the Bielanko Brothers have added a new keyboard player to the mix (Christine Smith from Jesse Malin's band). All I can say is that I can't wait to hear these new songs played live.
Speaking of the songs, these are some of the best yet from David and Serge Bielanko. The album opens up with the one-two punch of "Coughing Up Blood" and "Old Time Ticking Away," and right away the album's theme of looking for that old fashioned redemption in all of the wrong places is established.
"Coughing Up Blood," — which incidentally, rocks like a sumbitch' — starts off with the ominous lines "up will come the cancer/up come volcanic ash" (think these guys might be smokers?), and ends by stating that "from all the cities I've swallowed/I shall be released." While on "Old Time Ticking Away," we find that from that same darkness "a new day is rising, pure and whole."
That same search for redemption continues on "Angels On A Passing Train," where a keyboard somewhat reminiscent of Del Shannon's "Runaway" punctuates how "your laughter is my Jesus/cut down from the cross," before wagering that "I'll see you in heaven, and raise you two stars."
On the track "Wilderness," things get far more literal in the biblical sense as the song finds our truth seeker "bleeding from the mouth, when I came down from the mountains," and "zapped by some sort of Moses hand shooting lightning." While on the title track, Marah finally concludes that "thru the eye of a needle, we're just trying to sail to heaven on an old shipwreck."
Between all of the sideroads Marah take on the road to redemption of Angels Of Destruction!, you'll most often find them seeking the same truth in the Spanish hostels of songs like "Santos de Madera" or in the wine bars of "Songbirdz."
But redemptive poetics aside — and there are far more great lyrics to be found on this great album than those I've quoted here — this is an album where Marah, to quote Hillary after New Hampshire, seems to have really found their voice.
It is also the first great record of 2008.