Photography by Stephanie Tsong
Typography by Joshua Dotson
It’s been over three years since we’ve heard new material from local indie pop band Mariage Blanc. But the extended wait will soon be over. The group is set to mark its ten-year anniversary with its fifth album, the nine-track Mirror Phrase. A local release show is scheduled for October 12th at Brillobox, with psych-rockers Delicious Pastries and folk-rock group Andre Costello and the Cool Minors sharing the bill.
The wait, while long, was clearly worth it. Mirror Phrase is a gorgeous, mesmerizing masterpiece. With influences ranging from shoegaze and dream pop to folk and singer-songwriter, it’s hard to pin the band’s sound to one genre. It’s harder still to draw comparisons to other artists (though Imaginary Future comes somewhat close.)
Despite these difficulties, the music itself is incredibly easy to listen to. Mariage Blanc is skilled at weaving sonic layers and elements together into beautifully textured landscapes. Indie pop/rock fundamentals of guitar, drums, and bass are lushly layered and paired with electronic elements, like reverberating synths and shimmering, echoic pedal effects. Horns and string arrangements make occasional appearances too, adding striking dimension.
Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Matt Ceraso’s warm, comforting voice is crucial to this mix. Recalling Iron & Wine and (to a lesser extent) early Death Cab for Cutie, his slightly muted vocals guide you effortlessly through each track. Occasional stacked harmonies complement the layering of the instruments. His voice sometimes feels enveloped by clusters of synths or effect-heavy guitars. That’s a good thing, though. Rather than overpowering all other elements, it’s treated as an equal part of each song’s tapestry.
In addition to Ceraso on vocals, guitars, synths, Wurlitzer, and mellotron, Mariage Blanc consists of Joshua Dotson on bass, synths, and drum programming; Josh Kretzmer on guitar, synths, mellotron, and engineering; and Rich Kawood on drums. Other musicians featured on the record include Dane Adelman on trumpet; Billy Ambergris on saxophone; Read Connolly on pedal steel; Greg Decarolis on Wurlitzer; David Harding on strings; and David Bernabo on string arrangement.
This many moving parts could easily come off as cluttered and uncertain. But the group deftly avoids this. At every turn, their sound feels immersive and organic, comparable to an orchestra of birdsong and other animal noises in a forest. Songs bloom and withdraw and bloom and withdraw again, with the natural ease and progression of a flower opening and closing. This sense of flow—when to grow, when to retreat, when to use repetition to build a feeling, when to fade out to let you dwell on it—is a product of both intuition and a lot of practice. As a listener, they make you trust them immediately. That trust is maintained, even in their risk-taking. (The atmospheric, relentless journey of a second track, “Ghostwriter,” is a standout example of this.)
From the contemplative, percussion-heavy opener “Gravel Shrines” to the slow, aching burn of the conclusion, “Revenant Age,” the album itself rides similar waves. Recurring themes of nostalgia and melancholy are explored in a variety of ways. Slower, sweeping, orchestral ballads like “Angela” are nestled between faster tracks such as “Stale Icon” (an ode to disenchantment with religion) and “The Loom” (whose intricate fingerpicked guitar lines and pulsing percussion make it a personal favorite.)
The lyrics lean towards the imaginative, lofty, and poetic. (No tired clichés about “only having tonight” here.) Ceraso’s soft vocal tone, combined with these sometimes-tricky turns of phrase, means you won’t always understand what he’s singing. But when you do, especially with repeated listens, the eloquence is striking. “Revenant Age’s” chorus is a powerful example: “…Constructing our shallow understanding into something real/Dusty phrases share the stages through the past/A revenant age, reverberating in our lonesome laughs.” Other lines compare a tumultuous romantic partner to “the equinox pulling winter out of tune,” and disconnecting from loved ones as “crossing into afterthought.”
So whenever they do use more straightforward words, it stands out as intentional. In the extended, descending outro of “Angela,” Ceraso repeats “But she’s my girl,” over and over again. This happens just before the horns and strings swell, a darker, buzzing synth line takes prominence, and the instruments gradually drop out, until echoic percussion is all that’s left. The discordant buzz adds an element of doubt to the lyrics—is Angela his girl? If so, should she be?
Fall might be upon us, with winter approaching. But Mirror Phrase pulsates with subtle, undeniable vitality. To adapt a line from “Revenant Age,” it’s a record that will echo through you.
The Mirror Phrase album release party is on Friday, October 12th at Brillobox. Delicious Pastries and Andre Costello and the Cool Minors are also on the lineup. Download cards will be available at the show, with a wide release set for November 16th. Further details can be found on the Facebook event page. The band’s previous releases can be found on all major streaming/download platforms, as well as on their Bandcamp page. And you can keep up with Mariage Blanc directly here.