Dearly Departed – Remains of Marianne Mayweather EP

Dearly Departed
Remains of Marianne Mayweather EP

I’m starting to feel a bit like Charlie Kaufman, all cranky and frustrated, sitting in this chair in front of my computer trying to come up with the words to adequately describe this EP. I’ve approached it from half a dozen angles without success, composed deleted composed deleted, without anything definitive taking shape. Maybe it’s writer’s block or perhaps it’s a lack of passion for the material, I’m not quite sure, but it’s not often that I find myself at such an utter loss. Even now the music plays quietly in the background for the third or fourth time in a row, but I can’t seem to find anything substantive to grab onto.
And maybe it’s an excuse, but I’m starting to believe that I should stop reading the press sheets before reviewing an album. Inevitably, amidst all the usual name-dropping, they make reference to some band (or bands) that I really enjoy, and inevitably the band I’m reviewing sounds nothing like them. In the case of Long Island’s Dearly Departed, it was the double whammy of Sunny Day Real Estate and Slint that got me all worked up to hear something innovative and captivating. Instead I find myself remarkably unmoved, impatiently waiting for some spark to ignite my imagination.
How did I arrive at this place? Where are the art-damaged poetics I was promised? Where are the bombastic bursts of post-punk delirium? To be fair, things did seem to get off on the right foot. The first strains of the opening track “Understanding the Lack of Boundaries” are striking and engaging with guitarists Jeff Bodzer and Ryan Albrecht supplying some gorgeous melodies -soft and stirring – like the pitter patter of raindrops on a windowpane. The chorus features some thick aggressive guitars, adding some welcome dynamics and tension to the mix. It’s not exactly “Good Morning, Captain” or “In Circles”, but, still, it’s nice enough. Track two, humorously entitled, “Long-term Thinking on a Short Leash,” follows in much the same vein. Lush and pretty guitars twinkle and glisten brightly like sparkling stars in the darkened sky before combusting into furious flames during the explosive chorus. Again, there is nothing groundbreaking or new here, but the music is well played with convincing energy. The comparison I would make is less to SDRE’s epic swooning swells and art-rock abstraction, and more to the clean understated beauty of an End Serenading Mineral – hypnotic, delicate and sweet with the occasional strident flash of discord.
On the third track the music begins to take somewhat of an ominous turn. Dark menacing guitars swirl about unexpectedly like the grim advance of a sudden storm, heavy and powerful chords erupting like black thunderclouds overhead. The fusion of sturdy melody and foreboding atmosphere is reminiscent of Matt Talbot’s work with Hum. But then the storm breaks and cooling waves of breezy guitars arrive like a shining moment of clarity amidst a whirlwind of chaos. Bassist Joe Rubino and drummer Danny Lopez do a solid job of keeping things grounded with some tight fluid grooves and undulating rhythms that further stoke the fires of Dearly Departed’s smoldering emo output. Occasionally the two grab the reins and force the movement forward as in the upbeat intro to the EP’s fourth track, “The Masquerade,” which finds the band abandoning their penchant for shimmering subtlety and opting instead for a more forceful off-time post-hardcore attack.
So why am I so undecided? So uncommitted and unmoved by this performance? The music is strong, the musicianship is solid, so what’s the problem? For one thing there are the vocals. Singer Mike Mallamo’s vocals sound thin and fragile. That is not to be mistaken for whiny or self-abasing or downtrodden. I’m not talking about the nature of his lyrics, but the quality of his voice and method of delivery. It’s as if he isn’t projecting, singing from his head and not his gut, so that his tone remains nasally and feeble. There is also an over-the-top melodrama, something too sugary and politely yearning to be effective here. I don’t hear any conviction in his voice, just flawed technique and a suffering-soul romanticism that remains trite and unconvincing. Another fly in the ointment is that I’ve heard this musical approach one too many million times in my life. Dearly Departed don’t do anything to set themselves apart from the countless other bands in their respective genre. Except for a few brief moments of vision, there is nothing distinctive or memorable on this five-song EP, nothing genuine to lift it above the many masses of musical voices clambering to be heard. I don’t want to be too harsh though. Dearly Departed definitely have shown some promise here. Whether or not they seize that promise is up to them, but for now they’ll probably remain another nameless fish in a very large pond.