Swiss band Marhold have apparently been active for a decade or so, putting out four EPs before releasing their debut album this year. I’ve not heard of the band before, but based upon the strength of A Homemade World, I’ll definitely be checking out those EPs. Although a quartet, all of whom contribute, it’s hard to ignore how much Aleksandra Poraszka provides to the sound, on vocals and violin. Both provide powerful accents to the music of Marhold that come very close to show-stealing. Not entirely, as the drumming of Philip Feller is always there, holding my interest, and every now and then Marc-Alain Gertsch pulls out some guitar that is without doubt centre of my attention. Only Sarah Zaugg on bass seems to stay somewhat in the background, but from my understanding, although she is now a full member of the band, at the time of recording A Homemade World she was taken on as a session musician. This may perhaps explain why the bass does not play such a prominent part, and perhaps we may hear more from Sarah on future recordings.
The short instrumental piece that begins A Homemade World, entitled Sunrise, has Aleksandra playing piano and violin to create a beautiful and building piece that perfectly evokes the rising sun, until out of the crescendo crashes the opening notes of Homemade. This is only a brief blast, before pastoral violin returns, and we hear the first vocals of Aleksandra. I absolutely love the tone of her voice, and the slight touch of accent to her words. Philip’s drumming, as aforementioned, provides a steady and comforting beat, and the perfect foil to Aleksandra’s voice. Approximately halfway through, after some awesome and powerful vocals from Aleksandra, we get the first of those passages from Marc-Alain that show his guitar will not always be in the background. His soloing is an absolute treat to listen to. Marc-Alain’s (I presume) spoken word also works to great effect, before the violin takes the spotlight again. Over almost nine minutes, this one track really serves to show the various aspects of Marhold, and just how good all of them are.
Our Mind is the lead single for the album, and as so often seems to be the case for me, I find the song chosen to be a single to be less impressive and less representative of the album than others. Although I enjoy this song as part of the album, I’m not sure I would have checked out the album off the back of it. It sounds to me like Marhold playing it safe, and I like it more when they are not so worried about colouring outside the lines. It’s easily my least favourite song on the album, but in a way that just gives Hymenoptera more impact when it hits. And it hits hard! As with all the instrumental pieces on the album, I kind of wish it lasted a little longer. At least there is no way that the instrumental tracks can be called filler, though!
Whirls in the Sky continues the heavier trend of Hymenoptera initially, before pulling back. This is the first moment where Sarah’s bass plays a greater part, higher in the mix. And, boy, it’s really sweet – so hopefully Sarah does get to be heard more in future. Whirls in the Sky seems to be the first song in a mini-suite, too, as this and the following two tracks all bleed together. In a way, this makes the song another opening number, so it probably comes as no surprise that I think that this (like the impressive one-two punch of Sunrise/Homemade) is another highlight. It would have made a better lead single, in my opinion, than Our Mind. I love the way it segues into Intervention, which works as a quite beautiful instrumental bridge (possibly my favourite of the instrumental tracks) into Icy Sun. Honestly, if you weren’t paying attention, you could easily think you’re still listening to Whirls in the Sky – so smoothly does each track in this suite flow into the next. Icy Sun is a lot more, for lack of a better word, poppy though.
Icy Sun also segues into Power of Nature, but it doesn’t feel like part of the suite, so much as one song fading out while the other fades in – similar to the way disparate songs on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here are connected, yet not. Power of Nature is definitely powerful, and one of the heaviest moments on the album. But although Aleksandra’s vocals are more than up for this, it just doesn’t resonate with me so much. The band seem to work better when exploring the dynamics between quiet and loud, rather than just being full-on loud. The excellent bridge to Power of Nature (my favourite part of the song) emphasises this, and apart from Aleksandra’s impassioned vocals, is what saves the song from taking Our Mind’s crown for least interesting. And speaking of interesting, I love the country twang to the opening notes of Break Out, which turns out to be a bit of a bluesy ballad that is quite enthralling – and again, with Aleksandra’s vocals the star. She really does have a hell of a voice! Marc-Alain (since I’ve not mentioned him since Homemade) pulls out an all too short guitar solo. His playing throughout the song sounds barely restrained, and I was waiting to hear a blistering break out. It’s not disappointing, mind you, so much as surprising. But a band that surprises is always more interesting and enjoyable than one that sticks to a formula…
Just to prove a point, the following Trapped has a great percussion and didgeridoo opening. It’s unexpected, and it works. This is another song where Sarah really shines on bass – especially toward the end of the song, where it is largely just her and Aleksandra, before the band comes back in. In seven minutes, this song takes on a lot, and it succeeds. It’s the perfect blend of heavy and light that Power of Nature doesn’t quite achieve (for me), and I’m always quite disappointed as the percussive coda fades out. I could easily do with another seven minutes!
One thing that struck me, as I listened to Marhold after reviewing Pull Down the Sun, is how similar parts of the overall concepts of both bands are – revolving around the relationship between people and nature. Both use a mix of instrumental and vocal pieces to great effect. Ultimately, as per The Always Spinning Wheel, nature will continue in some form or other, long after the people have gone. We may create and then destroy the world we make for ourselves (A Homemade World, indeed), but nature will outlast us all. This song is suitably sombre and pensive, and emotionally affective. This could have been the end of the album. It’s a perfect closing number. But that doesn’t mean that what comes after is redundant.
Despite its title, World Crashing Down sounds upbeat and triumphant, and overall optimistic. Well, perhaps not the instrumental break, where the violin initially sounds quite melancholic. But the main melody soon kicks back in, and it’s party mode again. This must be Marhold’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It, and I Feel Fine” moment. And it’s a grand statement to end the album on, The Always Spinning Wheel might more perfectly have aurally bookended the album, but the glorious declaration of World Crashing Down somehow feels more appropriate. The world might be crashing down (and it will indeed keep spinning even once we’ve brought it down), but we don’t need to be afraid that it’s too late. We can still do our bit to effect change. This is our ‘Homemade World’, after all…
01. Sunrise (1:19)
02. Homemade (8:45)
03. Our Mind (4:17)
04. Hymenoptera (2:52)
05. Whirls in the Sky (3:18)
06. Intervention (2:01)
07. Icy Sun (4:27)
08. Power of Nature (5:03)
09. Break Out (4:51)
10. Trapped (7:07)
11. The Always Spinning Wheel (6:53)
12. World is Crashing Down (5:17)
Total Time – 56:10
Aleksandra Poraszka – Vocals, Violin, Piano
Marc-Alain Gertsch – Guitar, Vocals
Philip Feller – Drums
Sarah Zaugg – Bass
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Switzerland
Date of Release: 22nd May 2020