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Marching Church - "Telling It Like It Is" | Album Review

by Rob Cleveland

Almost a completely different act now, with an ensemble of 11 or more members in the studio, the Marching Church family has grown since This World Is Not Enough. They’ve all but defied their teenage punk origins with Telling It Like It Is, out now via Sacred Bones Records. The experiment showcases a mangled array of sounds tethered in folk & punk roots, occasionally shaking hands with the baroque.

Lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt vows, “I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” in what might be some of the most rousing and brazen bits of poetry you’ll hear all year: “And all the while it feels as if the light of the moon has been following me/ Like a spotlight in some bizarre theatre of loneliness/ fist-fucked by destiny opposition like a beggar at the heart of life, sugaRRR!” I think it’s safe to say that no one will get away with listening to this record without feeling discord or hearing that same kind of forthright desperation so flawlessly executed by Rønnenfelt.

But it’s not all downpour and heartache. At times, there are touches of light that temporarily remedy the album’s dalliance with darkness or gutsy dread. I think most would agree that “Heart of Life” is one of the most upbeat songs Rønnenfelt has ever written. Then again, it’s also very manic in the way that it knocks the wind out of you and pulls you up by your bootstraps when you least expect it to. Not to mention all the aforementioned fist-fucking that happens in between. Don’t let the album cover trip you up either; Rønnenfelt’s dead-pan gaze into the abyss is an open invitation: “Come on in,” he beckons on “Lion’s Den,” as they bang on what’s “likely an empty champagne bottle,” Anton Rothstein tells, explaining briefly, “I don’t remember, man.” Either way, you have got to love the timbre of that bottle in “Lion’s Den,” as well as the primal invitation to celebrate the wild.

Telling It Like It Is, masterfully produced by Escho label's Nis Bysted, is the first one of its kind from Rønnenfelt; it’s the first time their album’s functionality has ever relied so heavily on the use of overdubbing, delicate mixing, and impeccable orchestration amidst the tension and chaos. “We wanted it to sound like a studio and the instruments, as if the studio became a member of the band,” Rønnenfelt told CLRVYNT. And all the while, the frequencies coming from your stereo, that bounce around your room at random, all manage to undergo deliverance, crawling into your eardrums with the cool and casual fluidity of an earthworm –– at the heart of life, baby! Chaos has never been organized in such a slick or refined manner. Cacophony has never sounded so humble. Rønnenfelt splits this atom, perfunctorily, as if he’s tying shoelaces. 

“Up For Days” is another one that exhibits chaos in every chorus, where Rønnenfelt’s cool becomes a casualty when met with the kind of restlessness that naturally descends into madness and delusion. The hi-hat is panned right at a low sizzle, making room for the bright and chilling vocals, with all the ghastly “hooOoh Oooh’s” you might need. The song also contains the lyric, “The world is a better place when it is artificially lit,” sung with bravado and likely sardonic overtones (matching the aesthetic of the album cover, in varying degrees).

It’s no surprise the sophomore album focuses more on political strife and the social injustices at our doorstep this time around, with self-reflexive titles like “2016.” It’s about time someone named another song after a momentous year. But the lyric with the most provocation is uttered on “Inner City Pigeon” with these words right here: “I saw people put their power on display, like pigs that shoot dark-skinned men in the USA. They might be executive heroes amongst their friends. But no soap will let their hands smell clean again.” 

Telling It Like It Is vocalizes discomfort and encourages it in conversation, openly, with the occasional atonal howl from Rønnenfelt, and bonus falsettos on “Lion’s Den.” Perhaps it’s about a force that implores us to confront weakness as a trait in human nature, and that we should share these sentiments candidly, as opposed to hiding behind a shadow cast by something like hubris or status. That could be why Rønnenfelt told Observer, “I’m very interested in just standing there naked and not leaving anything in the shadows” (in reference to Plowing Into the Field of Love, and a performance in Bushwick at the time).

Maybe that’s the crux of “charging like a bull into Achilles’ heel.” Who knows?  Regardless, I think the scene can best be described in the words of Elizabeth Peyton: “Danish music is thriving because it’s about breaking moulds, not fitting them.”