The Crackling - Mary Magdalene
Record Label: File Under Music
Release Date: April 23, 2013
The Crackling is the solo moniker for veteran Vancouver drummer Kenton Loewen. Mary Magdalene is his sophomore full-length and third overall release. Many of the songs from The Crackling appeared on his 2012 EP Ashen. But this time around Loewen is stripping away his status as focal point and calling The Crackling a band (a fact confirmed by the band's press assets). On Mary Magdalene he is flanked by a rhythm section, a keyboardist, and a lead guitar. The disc is not short on guest accompanists either, including but not limited to: Dan Mangan, Debra Jean Creelman, violinist Jesse Zubot, trumpeter JP Carter and the Vancouver Children's Choir. Composer Eyvind Kang, who has worked with the likes of Animal Collective, Sun O)))) and the Decemberists charted the string arrangements.
From start to finish, Mary Magdalene has few if any flaws. Album opener "The Harm" is warm, inviting and features a cavalcade of gorgeous instrumentation. Unraveling gorgeously and buttressed by rising horns, "The Harm" is a swerving folk-rock gem. Lead single "Keep Me Drunk" is a sturdy-mid-tempo effort that is both polished and confident. Only a few minutes into the album and already one can say this is not some hack crafting an album in his bedroom: this is a seasoned veteran that knows his way around a song and proves it rather emphatically in five fantastic minutes. Though he does get a bit angry towards the end and threatens to suffocate the song, Creelman jumps in and makes the song nothing short of terrific.
"You Sure That I'm Wrong" is dusky and autumnal, a front-porch melody laden with violin and a lilting trumpet. Dripping with compassion and self-effacement, "You Sure That I'm Wrong" is just one of many spellbinding efforts on Mary Magdalene. While naming a song after your band is always an awkward and self-indulgent thing, Loewen does so anyway. "The Crackling" which concludes the disc's first half opens with a strut and veers towards haunting and dramatic at times. There's a definite Nick Cave-vibe, as well as something not unlike Colin Meloy, and this burly opus certainly sways towards histrionic, but by its conclusion, Loewen is howling and the stormy affair is utterly timeless and deeply poignant.
The back half of Mary Magdalene opens with "Suicide is Painless," a quiet effort akin to an early spring morning sunrise, the song is elegiac, string-laden and borderline funereal. On the contrary, the jangle "Ashen," is a rousing piano-laden affair that has a country strut to it and is anchored by Loewen's powerful vocals. Much like "The Crackling," there's a dramatic element to the song but never once does the song veer off into unwelcome territory. Buttressed by a skittering guitar solo in the final minutes and a twinkling piano outro, "Ashen" is a cascading effort from a towering vocalist who so far has yet to miss the mark.
Loewen is arguably his best when he sounds defeated an forlorn and "I Ask You For the Courage" is exactly that song. Buttressed by gorgeous arrangements, the song is sweeping, majestic and lush. Though much of the record is meticulously record, nowhere is that more apparent than on this one. Equal parts reassuring, solacing and affecting, "I Ask You For the Courage" is a tonic to anyone run down from the frenetic pace of life. It is also the moment when one realizes that Loewen is a timeless and spellbinding balladeer and one of Canada's most underrated talents.
Mary Magdalene closes with the placid meditation "The Cold Sky," which fits comfortably alongside the Sufjan Stevens and Iron and Wine canon of song; the David Bazan-esque "Sold the Children," and the gorgeous and ageless "I Love You Tonight." Featuring supple horns, and a breezy, whimsical flight akin to spring mornings, "I Love You Tonight" is a song for a lifetime and hands down one of the best loves songs of 2013, if not the last half decade.
Anyone familiar with the Vancouver music scene, knows that Loewen is not a fresh or new face, but to those of us below the border, he's not exactly someone who has become a household name. Given the right amount of exposure and promotion, Mary Magdalene has the chances to change that. This is an album that needs to be heard and an album that has the potential to do very big things. Whether its "The Harm," "Keep Me Drunk," "I Ask For the Courage" or "I Love You Tonight," these are songs that reveal a high musical aptitude and a talent that few if any can fake. Come to think of it, Mary Magdalene just might be one of the year's best albums. Don't think so? Give yourself an hour and spend some time with these ten songs. Chances are, you might just agree.