Hey Marseilles – Elegy EP

Hey Marseilles - Elegy EP

It’s about time we heard something from Hey Marseilles, the Seattle chamber pop septet whose debut first dropped in December of 2008.  The band’s earnest orchestrations quickly became the toast of indie music’s glitterati, earning them coveted spots at CMJ, Bumbershoot, NPR, and even Starbucks.  To some, Hey Marseilles was merely a Decemberists paean stripped of the maritime obsessions and faux-Brit accents, but the group’s To Travels and Trunks was a formidable accomplishment unto itself – a record that soared on a winsome fusion of strings, brass, accordion, and singer Matt Bishop’s honeyed vocals.

Given our insatiable appetite for steadily administered morsels of information and the ease with which burgeoning artists can now deliver their product to a mass audience, it’s puzzling to think about why it took Hey Marseilles nearly three years to release their new Elegy EP.  Meant as a preview to a proper follow-up LP that’s slated for an early 2012 unveiling, Elegy is an extended player in name only.  It includes five tracks, but once you cast aside extraneous radio-edit and instrumental versions, the album boils down to ten and a half minutes of new material.  At first, the gesture smacks of record label bureaucracy, where artistic motivations take a backseat to fiscally minded PR reps. Elegy might’ve very well been intended as nothing more than a placeholder for the next Hey Marseilles LP, but fortunately, the group’s ace songwriting saves what would have otherwise been a hackneyed promotional tactic.

The title track’s chimerical potpourri of wordless vocals, wind instrument riffs, and lush string harmonies provides immediate testimony of why so many blogs and webzines began namedropping these guys back in 2009.  Teeming with sublime melodies and rhythmic energy, the moderately brisk waltz tune is both wistful and somber.  Sung with an innate balance of whimsy and vulnerability, Bishop’s lyrics never fail to captivate, particularly on lines like, “I love you for your wit / not for the shit / you spout in your dreams.”  Hardly a ribald affair by any measure, the song’s use of one obscenity still apparently warranted a FCC-friendly version.

“Café Lights” exudes some of the Parisian flare of Hey Marseilles’ first album, where accordion harmonies and dulcet acoustic guitar work deftly conjure imagery of al fresco dining and romantic strolls down city streets.  The track undergoes more permutations than its predecessor, with a stark introduction of bowed string harmonies and a unifying lyrical theme (“Make your way back home again / I am here still / these sideways streets are straight and true / by strain and will”) that gives way to the propulsive energy of the song’s middle third, where myriad instrumental timbres and melodies envelop the listener in a surging wave of sound.  “Café Lights” turns more urgent and incessant in its homestretch, perhaps indicating a renewed sense of purpose that is bound to carry over to the other cuts awaiting us on Hey Marseilles’ sophomore record.

Forking over some dough for this release might feel a little unwarranted, given the fact that the only two complete compositions on it are also likely to appear again on next spring’s long player.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to find any fault with the notion of giving up $5.00 for such a resplendent display of musicianship.  Those who do open up their wallets are bound to be experience nothing but contentment with their decision.  At least until springtime.