The Marches – 4 a.m. Is The New Midnight

The Marches
4 a.m. Is The New Midnight

Southern California, as the motion picture industry often reminds us, is a place saturated with hedonistic pleasures and self-indulgence. It is altogether fitting then, that the Marches hail from La La Land. Much like the urban sprawl they inhabit, their debut album, 4 a.m. Is The New Midnight, is frequently messy but occasionally beautiful. It’s chaotic and ephemeral, but nonetheless presents several opportunities to give into the most tempting of vices. It revels in bursts of pleasure before abruptly moving onto something bigger and better. It’s edgy and modern, yet nostalgically retro. Indeed, this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink affair can be a bit overwhelming to the senses. Truth be told though, sensory overload never felt so good.

While no fewer than a dozen musicians are enlisted on the record, the band is decidedly the brainchild of Richard Conti. Given credit for writing and arranging all songs in addition to performing a majority of the instruments, Conti is also ironically paid respects for coming up with the dough to fund a project that was “recorded on borrowed recording equipment and borrowed instruments.” If the numerous recording locations (mainly the homes of band members’ families) are an indication of anything, it’s that these dudes collectively suffer from both a physical and musical ability to sit still. As The Marches were traversing the tangled freeways of LA to put the album together, they also managed to tap into some of the most instantly recognizable sounds of Motown, trip-hop, electronica, and dance rock. Unfortunately, far too many of these gestures of worship are never fully realized; every time the band hits a satisfying groove, they take off in another direction.

At some point during my first listen, the following artists popped into my head (in no particular order): LCD Soundsystem, St. Vincent, Beach Boys, and Imogen Heap. And that’s just the first five tracks. Sit with the disc for long enough, and you might even discover a little Diana Ross, and Bach.

The album’s first song (also the title track) is heavy on synthesized blips and squeals that sound like they were culled right from your favorite video game of fifteen years ago. Conti gets crazy with the vocoder on the lead vocals while female backup singers give us one of many nods to the Motor City with some Motown stylings. The next song is entitled “Bad Touch” and finds the Marches plunging head first into Detroit territory. It’s one of the album’s strongest moments, and finds gritty synthesizers and sassy saxophone riffs sharing the spotlight. In another dash of liner note irony, a man named James is credited with the tune’s “electric Motown bass.” It’s not James Jamerson, but damned if he doesn’t come close to perfection in matching the famed bassist’s grooves.

One instance of absolute beauty comes in the form of “Need Me Back,” a song which finds vocalist Briana Nadeau channeling Portishead’s Beth Gibbons as she sings, “I need someone / No one needs me back.” Though the drums and saxophones remain pretty busy, the lack of any additional instrumentation makes for an arresting two and a half minutes of the perfect musical accompaniment for a midnight drive through Hollywood.

On the other side of needless filler like “Skinema,” “The End Of The Album Pt. 2,” and “The Trouble With Heart Murmurs,” we find the Marches going into Supremes territory with “So Ill.” The title may be more Run-DMC than Diana Ross, but the song is an expertly crafted homage to one of the mid-60’s defining scenes. As an added bonus, Richard Conti gives us a wonderful change of pace by separating himself from his vocoder just long enough to give us a track with unprocessed male vocals.

The Marches’ debut record is refreshingly confident in its throwbacks to other genres, and deliciously quirky in its execution. The sardonic lyrics are a fine compliment to any party scene. Songs like “Sometimes Sex Isn’t About The Money” and “Bobby Brown,” with their nonsensical rants about seedy people doing seedy things, aren’t about to win over any singer/songwriters, but they’ll definitely fill up the dance floor. 4 a.m. Is The New Midnight is a far from perfect record, but it is certainly deserving of your time and attention. Who knows: with enough positive press, the Marches might be able to pony up the cash for their own rigs on their sophomore LP. I’d gladly aid the cause.