Marriages is the latest branch to be added to the increasingly large and complex Isis family tree. Members of the dearly departed post-metalers formed the slow-burning post-rock unit Red Sparowes, and in turn, Marriages was formed entirely from members of that band. In addition to this connection, guitarist/vocalist Emma Ruth Rundle and drummer Dave Clifford also play in the Nocturnes, a band built primarily around Rundle’s self-described “folkgaze” songwriting. Considering all of these complex connections to currently working bands, and the fact that while adding a few tweaks, but staying generally in the same sound arena, determining the purpose of the band’s mere existence becomes a little confusing. At times, the trio manages to establish its own voice, while at others, it engages in stock post-metal exercises seemingly meant to kill time and keep chops up until whenever Red Sparowes revs up again.
Calling the 25-minute long Kitsune an LP is a bit of a stretch. Four of the tracks on Kitsune share musical connective tissue with their immediate neighbor, making the album seem more like a slightly long, four song EP, than a six song LP. That being said, it does manage to establish a compelling arc, with the woozy, upward-spiraling guitar work of “Ride In My Place” exhaling into the spacious, brooding “Body Of Shade,” and later, the decayed, feedback and keyboard-drenched “Pelt” exploding into the furious “White Shape.” Ebb and flow of volume and intensity is nothing new in this genre, but where Marriages differ is in punctuating these mini-suites with free-standing statements, no more effectively than in “Ten Tiny Fingers.” Quite possibly one of the more essential tracks of heavy music to be released this year, it pulses along on one of Clifford’s steady drum thumps, while Rundle peppers her verses with an immaculately sparkly guitar lead and her most emotive vocal performance, which is devoid of the psych-smeared, Fever Ray/Knife-like vocal manipulation that pops up earlier and later in the album. A creepy, John Carpenter keyboard line runs through most of the track, further contributing to the unsettling mood.
At no point does Kitsune seem like an album that was created to make some grand, unique statement. It’s a perfectly serviceable and enjoyable post-metal/rock album that makes no real mistakes, and does manage to tweak the knobs of the formula ever-so-slightly. Quite possibly the biggest thing it has working against it is its release proximity to other members’ superior works. On the Nocturnes’ Aokigahara (which dropped in August of 2011), Rundle’s songwriting is given much more room for variation, with acoustic desert pickings sharing space with echoey, slowcore crawls. It makes Kitsune seem that much more anchored and bound to the Red Sparowes ship, and as albums like Aokigahara and the Red Sparowes catalog show, each of the individuals here are capable of producing music that is more than just “serviceable and enjoyable.”
Had Marriages given themselves more time to, write, develop and capitalize on their obvious strengths, Kitsune could have proven this point even further.