Oryx & Crake
CD Digipak (Edition of 500) or Double Vinyl Record (Edition of 250)
A commitment. An adventure. A journey. People use these words all the time in relation to marriage, in vows and explanations and elegies. So, too, do husband and wife Ryan Peoples and Rebekah Goode-Peoples of Atlanta’s Oryx & Crake. Though, chances are, they mean it in a totally different way.
“There’s a beast in me/and I know you know this,” Ryan sings on “Strange as You Are,” the opener of the band’s latest album, Marriage. But knowing and seeing are two different things entirely, and Oryx & Crake make hay of the tension that lies between the two, loading on Patterson Hood’s “duality of the Southern thing,” abandoned religion and nods to more than one of the great post-apocalyptic novels of our time forgood measure. Ostensibly, Marriage is about commitment — in a broad sense, not just between romantic partners — but it’s even bigger than that. Marriage is also about ambivalence.
For an album to tackle such big and slippery themes, it almost has to be cinematic, and in that regard, Oryx & Crake do not disappoint. Marriage displays the grandeur of Arcade Fire’s finer moments with the lyrical and emotional heft of Sufjan Steven’s more personal cuts. Tracks like “The World Will Take Care of Me” show off the group’s range, beginning with nothing but a voice and a guitar and gradually sneaking inlayer after layer of sound, creating a sense of something rich and organic, which permeates the album.
Crafted in the Goode-Peoples home over the course of four years (and blooming with little intimate Easter eggs, like a recording of their friends singing at a Christmas party, or the voices of their children), Marriage sounds much bigger than the rooms it was made in. This is thanks in large part to strings from Matt Jarrard (cello) and Karyn Lu (violin), as well as Ryan’s sound designer tinkerings with audio both “found” around the house and created.
Such big sounds, themes and richness of detail could have made the record sag under its own weight. But Rebekah — who did her masters work in epics — helped give it structure in the well-worn fashion of the classics. The songs, like the epics, move in cycles — from the first blush of a thrilling new thing to the “underworld moment” of “The Well”’s dirge-like crawl to the woozy singing saw and blistered toes of closer“The Road,” which tips its hat at — who else? — Cormac McCarthy.
The album art, by Bo Bartlett, is the perfect visual representation of the multi-layered themes on Marriage. On the front, in “Car Crash,” a couple embraces beside a crunched and overturned car, under an ochre sky. On the back is that painting’s equal and not-quite-opposite, “A Miraculous Outcome.” It’s exactly the same scene, only now the sky is blue and fairly clear. It’s “The Well” versus “The Road,” two sides of a coin that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever stuck it out – whatever “it” is.
It’s not the kind of journey that looks great on TV. But it’s an important one. Because it’s real.