The Marshes – Pox on the Tracts

5 out of 5

Label: Dr. Strange Records

Producer: The Marshes?

When I was a young punker and just learning how to be an asshole, I would do the young punker thing and buy cheap punk comps to flesh out my band name-dropping skills.  It was sometime during this process that I discovered that I wasn’t all that much of a punker ’cause I didn’t really dig too much punk… or at least the 90s pseudo-undergroundish version that was being pushed upon lil’ band-hungry impressionable ones like m’self.  But: I did come away from those samplings with a disc called ‘Cinema Beer Nuts’ and a band called The Marshes.  From all the three-chord shouty shouts on that particular disc, The Marshes stuck out.  They still do.  And they became one of my first experiences of “I don’t understand how everyone doesn’t like this.”  The rambling drums, the thin guitar sound, the atonal vocals – these are all common enough elements, but The Marshes skew them just enough to one side that it seems to make or break them for most people.

Nowadays I can read about the group springing from Dag Nasty, and I can catch how the lyrics are mostly weirdly tied to H.P. Lovecraft, but then… internetless, the group was a complete mystery.  No cooly posed band pic, super cute cover art (on this album) without any hint as to whether or not its in jest, no extensive thank yous of a billion other bands, first names only for the trio behind the scenes…  ‘Pox’ was my first Marshes disc (I feel like I special ordered it from a shop, but I’m not certain), and that was probably wise.  The previous disc, ‘Fledgling,’ is equally amazing but a little bit more up and down in its presentation.  The following album, ‘Recluse,’ is a weird slab of genius but its built around one repeating riff and I think it works best if you’re already into the group, else you’d judge them by the limitations.  But ‘Pox’ is the unified dose of aggression, the songs floating in and out of accessible concepts alongside the literary ties… which appealed (and appeals) because even as a disgruntled teen I had trouble stomaching most “fuck you and your rules” style punk rhymes.  Tracks build around bass-heavy, lightly distorted riffs, finding power in a beat and groove instead of pummeling you with the norm of amps to 11.

I would play this disc for people – particularly the gross and odd ‘Speed Whore,’ which, to me, was one of the angriest songs I’d heard – and my audience would screw up their nose, not really getting the appeal.  The appeal is that The Marshes had their own template.  It took from their Dag roots and the group is continually described as ‘punk revival’ for, perhaps, the way they dragged an 80s mentality into the rough and ready 90s scene.  …And in so doing forged a unique sound and identity and dropped three amazing albums.  (Of which Pox is like the amazingest.)

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