Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Coldest Satellite

Marc with a C is fucking punk rock.

Not in the way that the Dead Boys or the Pistols were punk rock, mind you. More in the vein of Elvis Costello or, better yet, Jonathan Richman.

Marc Sirdoreus writes songs from the proper punk vantage point. Less a place of fashion and flash, and more from a simple, unpretentious, human perspective.

His recently released RetroLowFi: 10 Years Of Marc With a C chronicles a decade's breadth of his music and, though a handful of the songs show the unfortunate leanings of a fledgling songwriter, it proves itself to be a phenomenal collection.

At 54 tracks stretched across two discs, RetroLowFi is a tad unwieldy as a review subject. Its extreme duration makes it prohibitive with regard to my traditional track-by-track breakdown, but, truth be told, I have grown a bit weary of that structure anyway. Thus, I'll attempt to ruminate on the meat of this collection in a more concise, if less linear, fashion. But I can't talk about what the album is without first talking about what it isn't.

It isn't slickly produced or perfectly packaged; it is instead purposefully, ingeniously rough around the edges. Yet by the same token, it isn't simply a haphazard collection of solo acoustic numbers, as one might expect from Marc's loose and informal live sets. Spanning everything from bedroom ballads to live, full-band rockers, RetroLowFi is the sampler platter of career retrospectives. It has a lot to offer, but chooses to do so by delivering a number of small yet serviceable portions spread out over both discs, with little groupings of similarly themed or orchestrated tracks that inevitably give way to something strikingly different before the listener becomes overly complacent.

It all kicks off with the poppy and pleasantly juvenile "Song Song," before giving way to Marc's bread and butter, the awkward love song, in the form of the as-yet unreleased "As the Bombs Fell." From there he segues into a bevy of barroom pleasers in quick succession ("Classic Country Wasn't Multitracked in '61," "I Will Repossess Your Heart" and the Alro Guthrie-tinged "Nerdy Girls"), with only a few minor missteps. This also affords Marc the opportunity to ruminate on his second overarching theme, the joy of music itself ("Broken Record Player.")

A bit before the halfway point, volume 1 does suffer due to some poor song placement. The proximity of the emo and occasionally atonal "Every Single Friend" and the (intentionally?) cliché "Fighting For Love (Is Like Fucking For Virginity)" kills a little of the artistic inertia, but Marc quickly gathers it again with the cleverly introspective "I Tried To Die Young" and a brief foray into inspired musical comedy by way of a live version of his song "Liana."

This, in turn, leads the collection to its first true highpoint, Marc's beautifully realized cover of "Shock Treatment," the title track from 1981's spiritual successor to the beloved Rocky Horror Picture Show, which paints the song as a haunting acoustic ballad far removed from the electro-rock of the original. Marc then treats us to another string of highlights including the sometimes clumsy but always endearing "Music Geek," childhood anthem "Chicken Pox & Star Wars Guys" and the disturbing (but undeniably stirring) "Town In Flames."

Disc 1 winds down with the broken-dreams narrative of "Drunk Classic Rock Fans" and the plodding, contemplative "Chasing the Bug," which, in turn, play off the pair of unreleased studio versions of Marc's "Blowjob Queen" and "Stairway To Rudolph" that kick off disc 2.

While this volume struggles a bit early on, with tracks like the They Might Be Giants-style romp entitled "Ammonia," it also sees some of Marc's most charming material (particularly in the form of the kid-friendly "Bounce Bounce Bounce.") Overall, the second installment somehow feels a bit more substantial, with cuts about real women ("Anything But Plain"), perfectly-layered pop ditties ("No London in Brazil") and wonderfully surreal lyricism ("I’m In Love with Everyone I Know"), which more than makes up for its few shortcomings (specifically "God Save The Queen from Navy Seals," which, though almost certainly unintentionally, apes the vocal melody from Green Day's "Basket Case" almost note-for-note).

And though it arrives slightly later in the album arch than disc 1, it also has a definite high point. In this case, Marc's four-part opus on the power of music and the unique magic of the true music lover – "Jessica, I Heard You like the Who," "She Loves the B-Sides," "RetroLowFi" and "Born Vintage" – is, perhaps, the most inspired track arrangement you'll find this side of a genuine concept album.

If RetroLowFi's second disc suffers at all, it's simply because it doesn't end on that triumphant quatrain. Still, in its waning moments the album manages to come through with the requisite fire and skill to remind you that Marc with a C has songwriting chops to spare. "You've Got That Curse" is an unlikely but insistent toe-tapper, "Happy to Be Alive" is a perfectly balanced meditation on the simple life and "Laura, I Need Medicine," while not a complete lyrical triumph, is a catchy little joint about stalking Laura Prepon.

The album's ultimate closer, "Satellite," is a delicate six-minute acoustic jam that's thick with vocal overdubs and positively packed with that special brand of angst that somehow manages to sound genuinely poignant. It's an efficient wrap-up to an album that often wanders wide between the humorous and the tender. Like any good song, it occupies the conscious mind while summarily appealing to those raw emotions simmering beneath the surface.

That said, I can think of no better way to sum up a career retrospective like RetroLowFi.

It succeeds as an album much in the same way that Marc's style has kept his music relevant for the past decade; it ebbs and flows, sometimes slowing to a trickle, but always moving forward. As a relatively new but also fairly discriminating devotee of Marc with a C, it's easy to recognize this project for what it truly is: a comprehensive list of fan favorites wrapped up in a single tidy package. While there were a handful of tracks that I didn't completely feel, RetroLowFi is an amazing effort that surely spotlights a fair measure of your old favorites and sweetens the deal with new tracks, unreleased material and alternate takes. At 10 bucks, it’s a steal for seasoned fans and a perfect jumping-off point for newbs.

Grab a copy now, and discover a new favorite.

"I've asked for your number, but please let me explain…"


Sponng said...

So few people comment on song placement / arrangement, which is very important when considering the listening experience. With prevalence of shove and shuffle of bulk songs, this is something I think will eventually be lost. Luckily we've got mash-up & nerd & filk folks who do keep the digital playlist (listening to the Kleptones UPTIME right now for example).

Z. said...

I agree, Sponng. In the age of iTunes, everything is about singles now, and album building is a dying art. Thankfully you still have cats like those in the bootleg scene who are very dedicated to keeping the full album experience alive.

Marc With a C said...

Thanks for your review, kind sir...

...and man, you totally nailed me on "Basket Case". Not only did I not notice that, but no one else has ever caught it - and the song was released in 2005!

But seriously, I really appreciate it, and I'm glad that you liked the record as much as you did. :)

Z. said...

In the spirit of full disclosure, Marc, I feel led to tell you that, in my decade-long turn as a songwriter, I "wrote" the melody from "Every Rose Has it's Thorn" no less than 3 times. :P