5 out of 5
Label: Grass Records
Produced by: Mark Alan Miller
It’s not nearly as lean and focused as followup Pox On the Tracts, and the Dag Nasty / Discord influence is a bit closer to the surface with the shouts and gang vocals, stamping Marshes’ sophomore album (I long thought it was their debut – even indirectly stating so in that Pox review – but I WAS WRONG) more clearly with the ‘punk’ tag, but I would admittedly have to stretch my infamous integrity ridiculously thin – probably breaking my thick-ass rose-colored glasses in the strain – to rate this less than five stars.
Fledgling solidifies the discomfitingly awesome mash-up of elements that would define the group’s sound the next two albums: cryptic, Lovecraft-tinged lyrics that dip into occasionally brash or visceral narratives or barbs, sung in Emil’s atonal sing-speak, punctuated on Fledgling with speed-riffing and the harried yelps to match; Steven Wardlaw’s thin, lightly distorted guitar ducking the punches of Colin Sears’ impeccably timed drums and Emil’s unique bass lines, the rhythm section exchanging on-beat, off-beat riffs as it suits the song; the up-front production that spares no note but keeps the levels just right so that our players sweaty efforts are evident; the odd, tonally mismatched cover, with lyrics but not much else in the liner notes; the awesome, awesome songs.
At fifteen tracks – with some bonus track musings and one song (The Puppy and the Smokestack) that will test your tolerance of tone-deaf singing – Fledgling’s punkiness might tire some, and a couple tracks steal their basic sound from each other. The whole Marshes allegory (or whatever) also isn’t as consistent here. But: If you like one song, I’m pretty sure you’ll like two. And so on, until you’re listening to the disc on repeat forever, and wouldn’t dare drop a single goddamn track or change a single snarky, weird, honest or crass lyric.
So I cannae tell a lie: Five stars, through and through.