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Barely March - Marely Barch Music Album Reviews

Barely March - Marely Barch Music Album Reviews

Recorded at home on his mother’s laptop, Barely March’s debut album is a scrappy, tuneful album of post-breakup self-deprecation that recognizes the absurdity of wallowing in your own bullshit.

Publicly available information on Barely March’s debut album is scant, and all of it points to a creation myth of profound tragicomedy. If we take his lyrics at face value, Chris Keough got dumped in December and spent the rest of the winter writing songs about feeling like a total fucking loser and recording them on his mother’s laptop. The album’s rescue from the #pop-punk and #emo voids of Bandcamp is no more glamorous: Marely Barch was remastered on cassette by Telethon, who released a tuneful and stupefyingly ambitious five-act “powerpoppoppunk” opera in 2017 that was almost completely ignored by critics; they had found Barely March on a Facebook group for a Jeff Rosenstock covers compilation. This wildly dorky origin story suits Marely Barch: It’s an album of teenage self-deprecation that simultaneously recognizes the absurdity of wallowing in your own bullshit. It’s also an impeccably written Brief History of Long Island Punk, a genre that happens to be one of the best possible musical vehicles to express these exact emotions.

But Keough can’t help using the immediate tactics of a shitposter: the spoonerized album title; the three thinking-face emojis tacked onto a song called “thinking emoji”; the album cover. Clearly he was going to use “Mambo No. 6” and “Live Fast, Cy Young” as titles regardless of their content. At the very least, they’re of a piece with the truth-in-advertising of “My Life, in Shambles” and “Nervous as I’ll Ever Be.” “Surf Wax Antarctica” is the most tidy summation of Keough’s m.o., nodding to both a very obvious influence and another, less obvious one. “The voice on the TV reminds me that I am just so cowardly,” he yelps before quoting the most Know Your Meme moment from the relatively obscure Cartoon Network show “Courage the Cowardly Dog”: “Return the slab.”

The latter song is also a tidy summation of Marely Barch’s musical charms: Guitar Center glam metal on a Craiglist budget, falsetto whoops, and hyper-referential lyrics relating an emotional death march on Long Island’s Porcelain Beach. This is a record made in complete obscurity in a style whose gender dynamics are under more scrutiny than ever, and he’s mighty generous with this kind of emo melodrama. But getting dumped is totally fucking awful and Marely Barch is a tribute to those times when adult shit like perspective and forgiveness just aren’t gonna cut it. More importantly, it proves one can ingloriously self-immolate without taking anyone else down in the flames. Like the breakup albums that extend beyond their blast radius, the emotions are raw and real enough for the narrator to be relatable, while leaving open the likely possibility that you’ll end up taking the other party’s side. “I’m so stack overflow, the definition of insanity,” he admits, quick with a joke and clearly in touch with his emotions yet also unable to remove himself from his lifeless phone, his apartment, and, during “My Life, in Shambles,” even his shower.

Keough is too demoralized to demand you respect the confidence and craft of a genre that can barely look itself in the mirror, so he just earns it instead. “Magnolia, where have all the good times gone?” he yells in “Thinking Emoji,” honoring the lineage of emo bands attaching proper nouns to their longing with one of many hooks explicitly designed for raising a Schlitz before a tear falls in it. “Wrote a song in 6/8 time/Like that B side that you said you liked,” he sings in “As Nervous as I’ll Ever Be,” even as he’s dealing with grand, finely structured melodic gestures that recall “Killer Queen” as much as Weezer’s A game. As far as pop-punk and emo go, he kids because he loves: “Mambo No. 6” follows a model of dramatic introductory tracks and disarms it with a run of finger-tapping. Listen to a Hopeless or Fearless band and the drums sound like synth presets anyway, so Keough takes advantage of his recording limitations, using the rigidity of drum machines to give his music house-like propulsion or textural shifts, turning the percussive fills of “Thinking Emoji” into blasts of streaming static before it drops out into a coda of chopped and screwed channel surfing.

The most carefully chosen moment of Marely Barch ends up being the one that got it discovered in the first place. “Bonus Oceans” is a Jeff Rosenstock cover taken from I Look Like Shit, a collection of home recordings from 2010-2012, when Bomb the Music Industry! was winding down. Maybe Rosenstock’s comprehensive State of the Union albums are more depressing, but “Bonus Oceans” is his most desperate song: Shamed by a shitty restaurant job, exhausted by the futility of “Remember when?,” he wonders if he’d be better off getting cancer or shot so he could revert back to a childlike state of having other people care for him. It’s a testament to both Keough’s hooky songwriting and his cratered emotional state that the chorus could pass for his own: “If you don’t die young, you’re gonna live too long.” A tremendously affecting song, “Bonus Oceans” is a footnote in Rosenstock’s catalog, but it’s exactly where Keough is at right now: He might be ready to take on the world, if he can just leave his apartment first.


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