Divorcing convention: Marriages makes post-rock bliss on Kitsuné

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Marriages-KitsunesmMarriages: Kitsuné (Sargent House, 5/1/12)

“Ride in My Place”


Emma Ruth Rundle has a belated Christmas gift for you. While most of us braved awkward reunions with relatives last winter, the guitarist/singer and her new band Marriages were cooped up in a studio, challenging the very notion of what it means to be “post-rock.”

Rundle, who also leads The Nocturnes, is joined here by Greg Burns and Dave Clifford — all names that you might recognize from instrumental powerhouse Red Sparowes, a band that pushes the boundaries of the loud-soft dynamic with an innovative use of pedal steel and subtle vocal textures.

And with Marriages, Rundle vows to uphold the sanctity of that evolution. This debut still makes use of post-rock conventions — elongated melodies, reverberating guitars, and deliberate drumming — but they’re led by Rundle’s intoxicating vocals and unconventional playing style.

“I don’t use a pick,” she notes. “I play a bastardized version of finger style — I have long nails on my right hand, and I alternate bass notes with my thumb while playing melodic lines with my other fingers.”

This hybrid style helps Marriages defy the foundational post-rock commandment of “thou shalt precede thy low note with one high note,” and the result is odd yet beautiful. If pressed, one might compare the sound to PJ Harvey teaming up with Tool in 1995 to cover Mazzy Star.

Rundle’s vocals — breathy and, at times, ghostly — benefit from a bit of traditional post-rock atmospherics. But they’re also joined by a subtle, deep effect, allowing her to harmonize with a nearly inaudible lower octave. Veteran producer Toshi Kasai (Big Business) plays an important role in this production, getting the best sounds for the guitar and bass as well. One song, however, specifically was built around one of Rundle’s custom pedals.

“When I get to use it, it sounds fucking insane,” she says. “It’ll tear people’s heads off.”

Yet despite this powerful, assertive sound, Rundle expresses trepidation at how Red Sparowes fans will receive the album, and she has some nerves about fronting the band. Thankfully, her anxiety evaporates from her familiar bandmates, particularly during live performances. “I look over and there’s Dave,” she says. “That’s really comforting.”

And soon enough, Rundle’s confidence will come from fans who hear what Marriages has to offer. Because more than anything, she knows that post-rock — like any genre — needs to take chances to stick around.

“I think people want to expand what’s going on,” Rundle says. “It has to go somewhere in order for it to survive. I think it has to evolve.”

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