Harmony and balance are truly hard amenities to come by, especially in a genre that has been there and done that; however, Brooklyn’s Ski Lodge may have found the perfect distribution of their weight. The indie-pop-rock project, powered by multi instrumentalist, singer-songwriter Andrew Marr, infuses a variety of influences (namely The Smiths-era Brit-pop), while also retaining its own unique identity. The result is Big Heart, a debut album that utilizes dynamic song writing, honest lyricism, and structure that listeners would expect from a veteran’s catalogue.
More often than not, young, wide-eyed indie-esque artists lose themselves amidst their lush soundscapes, heavy and introverted lyrics, and brooding structures; however, Marr and company keep steady footing throughout Big Heart’s eleven tracks. This is done so through theme and tone – not sonic tone as much as narrative. This is an impressive feat, especially for a debut record. Again, the record glows with a confidence that’s typically reserved for later entries in one’s catalogue; however, it is not free of insecurities. For example, Bon Iver’s For Emma featured a secluded, heartbroken singularity. Inversely, the self titled follow up, Bon Iver, boasted elaborate arrangements, further experimentation, and unbridled confidence. Ski Lodge manage to blend these two approaches together to create a nostalgic yet fresh sound.
Confidence aside, perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Big Heart comes from a grounded approach that never feels too weighted. There is a seriousness to Ski Lodge, but its reserved for lyricism rather than music. As a whole, the album’s instrumentation plays lightly. In doing so, the heavy lifting is left to Marr’s lyricism and vocal approach. Gravitas and levity need to be used in equal measure; too much of the former can bog down even the best of intentions, and too much of the latter all too often translates into disposability. This goes back to the need for balance, or in this case, melancholy, which Ski Lodge has no short supply of. While upbeat drumming, syncopated rhythms, and jangly, reverb laden guitars may lead you to believe you’re in a happy place, Marr’s vocal delivery and lyrical exploration provides quite the amount of heft. On tracks like “I Can’t Tell,” “I Always Thought,” and title track “Big Heart,” Marr lets rip themes of loneliness, heartache, family, and other contentions; however, you’d be hard pressed to find obvious darkness. Instead, Marr deals in shades and undertones.
This dynamic is what really makes Big Heart such a success; however, it wasn’t pioneered by the band. This is a sound borrowed from their Brit-pop influences (i.e. The Smiths/Morrissey) – check tracks “Anything to Hurt You” and “Boy.” However, though Andrew and company borrow and build off of existing structures, that doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, it could prove a larger obstacle by creating certain expectations. Luckily, the record doesn’t rest on what’s familiar. Instead, it uses familiarity as a common thread in which it weaves an entirely different musical comfort blanket.
Overall, Marr’s debut full length offers up a new perspective on a tried and true formula. In doing so, the album toes just enough angst without making you feel like a teenager again. That being said, Big Heart is definitely worth your time.