by Kelly Johnson
Something’s happening in Philadelphia. The city has become a hotbed for fans of weirdo pop/punk/noise/whatever. There seems to be unwillingness or, more likely, disinterest in conforming to any specific category amongst Philly’s most exciting groups. Bands like Mumblr, Spirit of the Beehive, Sheer Mag, Snoozer, It Must Be Love (an overlooked one-off album), NAH, Blue Smiley: these just off the top of my head. Ranch Records has a big hand in cultivating this diversity and experimentation. The label’s most recent release is a “split” between two fantastic rock bands on their roster, Marge and Gunk.
Excellently titled Garge Munk, Marge and Gunk’s release is actually one long 11-minute track released on Bandcamp. Each band has two songs that run seamlessly together. And if you REALLY love the track you can drop a cool $100 on purchasing it from the site. I’ll let you decide for yourself if you’d like to “open thy heart/wallet.” [Editors note: word from Ranch Records is that the split will see an official release next year on vinyl when I can only assume the digital will accompany at a normal cost as well.]
Marge fires off the split with “Shave Yr Head;” a catchy-as-hell upbeat pop song. The recording is shambolic in an endearing way, a bit looser than the pop gems on their album Not Bad. It is anchored by a laser-staccato guitar lead that underscores the sunny feel. “S.P.F.,” the last song on the track and Marge’s second contribution, has a much more subdued vibe that feels more akin to Gunk’s aesthetic. The track rides a great laid-back groove into some nice guitar feedback. “Shave Yr Head” is an early summer morning after two cups of coffee, and “S.P.F.” is smoking a cigarette on the back porch, watching the sunset.
Sandwiched between Marge’s songs are two Gunk numbers, “A Brief History of Lies” and “And…I Won’t Stop.” Both songs wouldn’t sound out of place on either of their previous albums, Gradual Shove or this past summer’s Gunk (In fact, both bands’ contributions seem to be outtakes from their Sex Dungeon sessions for other albums, although the Bandcamp site doesn’t explicitly state that).
Gunk frontman Josh Mackie has an uncanny vocal resemblance to Andrew Savage from Parquet Courts but infuses the songs with way more melody (and indecipherable lyrics). The band’s strength is its ability to take subtle twists and turns within a pop structure format and undercut the listener’s expectations. Filter that through a blown-out lo fi rock song and it becomes even more enigmatic. Each listen grants more rewards. “And…I Won’t Stop” in particular crams so many hooks into just barely over a minute that you don’t have time to process it the first few plays.
Garge Munk isn’t the strongest introduction to Marge or Gunk’s work (See: Not Bad for Marge and Gradual Shove for Gunk), but for what-appears-to-be just leftovers, it’s a testament to how good they really are. The songs complement each other and work really well as a single track. It’s an exciting statement of unity from two bands in Philadelphia’s scene of overflowing creativity.