Hudson Valley Band MARLBORO Drop Dizzying Debut Album, Convertible Life
The first time we introduced you to MARLBORO was just last month when they released their debut single, a punchy ode languishing in the limbo between folk and garage-rock. Today, the Hudson Valley based indie outfit return with their debut full-length, Convertible Life, an album so rich with skill and genre-blending influence that it won’t soon leave your ears, but rather nestle in the quiet corners of your mind, buzzing and crooning and humming, unrelenting in their power and desperate to share it with you.
Formed by prolific musician and producer Dante DeFelice just this year, MARLBORO is comprised of DeFelice as guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, Elliot Cash on electric guitar, Duncan Clark on bass, Matt Bliss on percussion, and Sean Merryman on keys. The MARLBORO team is important to note here for two reasons: one, at its simplest, the band is a group of good friends making music in the place they grew up in, but two, at its most complex, the band is a group of expertly selected multi-instrumentalists who each bring new levels of energy and emotion, pooling their efforts to create something spectacular. There’s a camaraderie here, a sort of magic music mojo that allows each member to shine like stars among each other, except nobody’s dying out in the fight for air.
When we asked DeFelice to tell us a little about the record, he was adamant that it’s got a history to it, a life, and — we’ll venture to say — a future, courtesy of the hurt he’d gone through and the help he’d received.
"Convertible Life is many different things to me. I wrote and recorded the album during the most intense times of my life. I lost myself completely and I was scared. Now, listening to the album, it is clear what broke me,” Dante explains. “Convertible Life is the sound of me coming back, looking back and moving forward all while trying to piece my life back together. It is the most honest, interwoven album I have ever written and recorded, and that is all thanks to MARLBORO. This album has nothing, yet everything, to do with a red convertible. There is a song in here for everyone and I hope it finds you."
With this in mind, we dive headfirst into Convertible Life, sifting our way through punk-tinged indie anthems (“anti-folk,” MARLBORO have dubbed their brand) one after the other, each moving through their own moments of mania and comedowns.
The album opens with "High Test,” mimicking the discordant noise you might find at your local auto-service company — searing reverb and metallic scratches — before dissipating in favor of a mellow bloom exploding into a schizophrenic arrangement of otherworldly fuzz and twangy strums before we’re introduced to DeFelice’s slightly wavering vocals. Accompanied by straight strums and a steadily rising drum section, the track moves through a dizzying array of rock elements foggy with psychedelia. It’s the longest song on the record at over seven minutes, a real in-your-face introduction demanding your attention.
Following Convertible Life’s dynamic opener is “J Card,” already rearing its head as one of the standout tracks on the record. Fueled by steady alt-rock rhythms, its warmth and pleasant nostalgia seem to sweeten an album so heavy and frenzied. The lyrics here get a little bittersweet — like when DeFelice sings “I take a sip, swish and spit all the poison out my mouth” — but they’re presented with the good-times energy of a rollicking arrangement. Next comes “Being Divine,” another classic take on MARLBORO’s signature anti-folk, but sticky with sugar again as if they’ve dialed down the ruckus just long enough to deliver a couple sunny tracks touched by tropical guitar lines and upbeat percussion.
On “Feng Shui Body Function,” the band beautifully builds a mellow (so mellow it begins to fall, softly and unknowingly, into melancholy) soundscape of plinking electronics and tender strums before the crescendo of percussion kicks in, a smattering of shimmer dissolving in the distance as a single verse is drawled on repeat like a mantra. Next comes “Frances Ethel Gumm,” the drowsy folk ode to Judy Garland that MARLBORO released as their debut single last month. It’s a relatively unassuming track, but because this is MARLBORO, things must change. Soon, the woozy rock-tinged folk erupts into searing electric and garage-rock treatment. “Grandpa DeFelice” follows, a remarkable feat of songwriting here as DeFelice introduces his own grandfather as a character, spilling and sharing wisdom between them. It’s another uptempo track, spurred onward by quirky rhythm lines and a folksy outro, but there’s a lot of tough self-reflection hidden in the delivery.
The halfway point of Convertible Life finds “Open Attic,” powered by percussion and layers of searing guitar riffs tumbling like cartwheels between deep bass blooms and the unrelenting drums which surge at one point, this intense wave of hard-hitting percussion growing and growing before it drops out for DeFelice’s distinct croon delivering desperate memories, that last verse (not sung but howled, like he waited patiently for half a record before he finally grew his fangs and met the moon) one of the most perfect moments on Convertible Life. We get the record’s title track next, “Convertible Life” moving somewhere between a sparkling slow burn and a fast-paced fight to the finish line. The guitars and bass play off each other here, entirely united, each element operating at the same speed and skill for a bittersweet musing.
Next is “Convertible Life Cont,” the near-instrumental (just the repeat utterance of the album title before a lyric from the past song closes it out) counterpart to its predecessor. It’s a beautifully dissonant composition that finds the twang of guitar to be thin while the arrangement around it grows thicker, though both still reside in a mellow soundscape awash in resounding warbles and jarring instrumental unity reaching new peaks together. On “Sober Sparkles,” DeFelice walks us through more of his poetic songwriting, delivered atop a bed of stable percussive patterns and rhythms that wobble with reverb. “Road” comes next, returning to the quiet contemplation of MARLBORO’s softer moments. The multi-instrumentation is anxious due to the uniformity of their quick, steady pulses, but soon loses that unnerving precision once the track adopts a searing, sunny rhythm line. The entire song is a gut-punch, but you don’t notice it right away. Lyrics like “The road will white wash the walls of my mind / It will bleach and clean out my insides” coupled with gloomy percussion give a depth to it, masked moment-to-moment by DeFelice’s nonchalant vocals and guitar treatment.
On “A Song,” MARLBORO turn an 80s song left in the family into an outlaw tune, a deliciously surprising break in the record. The exaggerated vocal drawl, the honking bass and guitar, the heavy smash of percussion — it’s got an Old 97s feel to it, but it’s also fresh and new and dripping in country grit. Convertible Life ends with “Ignorance Is Bliss,” opening with the sweet quiver of falsetto before being joined by a pleasant acoustic line. The song is beautiful, another subtle soul-searcher in which the sparkle of keys seem to float, looking down over the minimalist arrangement, a shy accompaniment keeping its distance because it knows that DeFelice’s shaky croon, strong articulation, and acoustic guitar are leading the album to its dazzling end. The conclusion — a fierce smash of cacophony — fades out into its direct opposite — an otherworldly trill of blossoming reverb sent out into the world MARLBORO has built, a world only they could have.
On their debut album, MARLBORO offer thirteen vagabond songs that walk in and out of genres like they bought a motel room in each just for the purpose of making this record. From raging garage-rock anthems fuzzy with fog to rollicking psych-folk efforts more poem than song, Convertible Life marches the gamut of sonic success, driven by the meticulous piecing together that comes after a fit of unraveling. It’s got holes and scratches and it will never be the same, but those foibles meet each other in the middle to craft something akin to perfection.