The first thing you'll likely notice upon listening through Broken Record, the debut EP by local band Mariage Blanc, is how good it sounds, how dynamic and engaging -- especially for a group that's been on the scene for less than a year. You might also notice how neatly the EP divides between sparse, moodily dramatic songs and more upbeat pop.
That duality stems from the fact that Mariage Blanc was sort of two bands to begin with: Principal songwriters and vocalists Matt Ceraso and Josh Kretzmer were both trying to start bands when it became apparent they could join forces. (And now you understand their band name, which refers to unconsummated marriages of convenience.) Rallying around these two are Jeff Baker (trumpet, guitar, organ); Josh Dotson (bass); Sam McUmber, of the Hood Gang, on keyboards; and Chris Williams on drums (replacing Jeff Ryan, who plays on the EP).
The EP starts off with "Contrary to Popular Belief," an eerie musing on the dangers of nostalgia, with intriguing chord changes sketched out with acoustic guitar, percussion and mellotron. "All memories are skewed," Ceraso's smooth vocal insists, before a distorted piano figure takes charge, and the song fades into crackling fuzz. Pretty sophisticated stuff. Joe Bartoletta at Machine Age Studio deserves some praise for the EP's naturalistic and yet imaginative sonics; additional overdubs and mixing were handled by Kretzmer at his house.
The second song, "Off-white Noise" immediately recalls Wilco's "War on War" and "Jesus, Etc." with its electric piano, organ and touch of early Steely Dan; a nice breakdown dominated by Wurlitzer and strings (played by Liam Cooney and Jim Walton) leads into an extended vamp. Strings also play an important role in the Beatlesque "Marquee," especially in the somewhat "A Day in the Life" mid section.
"Concrete Face" and "Sunken Ship" are on the moodier side, mixing acoustic guitars with spooky atmospherics again along the lines of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. In addition to those comparisons, Kretzmer notes the influence of Elliott Smith, The Kinks and Zombies, Okkervil River and Belle & Sebastian, as well as producer/musician Jon Brion, he of many a film score. Indeed, out of Mariage Blanc's seven songs, more than half would make a perfect closing-credits song for a quirky indie dramedy, and "Oh, the Humanity!" in particular.
That music-supervisor-friendliness, as well as the kind of lush orchestration and arrangement suited to the era of Arcade Fires, Polyphonic Sprees and Broken Social Scenes, make Broken Record a very promising debut.
Mariage Blanc CD-release shows:
With Little Teeth 7 p.m. Sat., Oct. 18. Garfield Artworks, 4931 Penn Ave., Garfield. $5. All ages. 412-361-2262 or www.garfieldartworks.com
With Boca Chica and The Red Western. 9 p.m. Sat., Oct. 18. 31st Street Pub, 3101 Penn Ave., Strip District. $5. 21 and over. 412-391-8334 or www.31stpub.com