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The Marked Men - Fix My Brain

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Artist: The Marked Men

Album: Fix My Brain

Label: Dirtnap

Review date: Mar. 18, 2010

The Marked Menís high notes have been released by Dirtnap Records, a label whoís logo shows a cartoon fist under the inscription "Punk Rock." Fittingly, the Men bash out pop songs with cartoon fists. More than the bare-minimum of three chords and a catch-phrase, theyíre closer to the style of Jehu/Hot Snakes; dueling buzzsaws wielded by dueling songwriters. The Marked Menís topics stay in the realm of the Ramones, though: heartbreak and mental breakdown. The sing-alongs come easy, the guitars riffs are odder than they seem at first, but what sets this band apart is the momentum. They spray these things out. At their best, the songs blare by like a great gig in a club with shitty sound. The songcraft has to be there to keep the rally of two-minute blasts from blurring together. But the kicks come so quick, itís hard to think to much about the interplay. Eccentric turns and changes are tricks to make the songs go even faster.

Last yearís Ghosts found them at their apex. Songs dropped to the 90-second range, and their verse-change-chorus was craftier than than ever. Cramming 15 songs on to the album had a magic effect. The pop-punk album template is well-established; start fast, slow down for a few songs before the end, then close the deal with the bluntest thing you got. Ghosts follows the guidelines, but keeps unloading blunter and faster numbers at the end. Its series of fakeouts makes it one of the the best sequenced albums of the last decade, a good reason to turn off the shuffle.

Thatís not to say their songs donít stand up in isolation. Theyíre a DIY band, but not a lo-fi band. Fix My Brain, their 2006 album, has this credit: "recorded, engineered, produced, mixed and obsessed over by the Marked Men." In the process of that obsessing, they backed off the tempos, and showed off their melodies. The whole first half jangles as much as it distorts, leaving room for backing melodies. "Sully My Name" slows it down enough to pass for something off Damn The Torpedoes.

Fix My Brain was first issued on Swami Records, owned by Hot Snake John Reis. In comparing these songs with the rest of the Marked Men catalog, itís surprising what a difference a few less BPMs can make. Touches stand out - "A Little Lesson" starts with the "Hard Dayís Night" chord, "Someday" quotes Wireís "The Commercial." With judicious injection of sap into their lyrics, this band could expand their following into audiences that prefer more sincerity. They could, maybe, get way beyond their intermittent trips outside of Denton, Texas.

That would spoil a good thing going. Thereís a lot of ghettoized bands that have cracked the code of polished songwriting, and in the processes shed all the character that made them interesting in the first place. Edit out all the breakthrough songs on Zen Arcade, and youíve still got one disc of knock-your-teeth-out hardcore. Drop the strongest songs from Warehouse: Songs and Stories and youíve got a disc of easily discarded college rock. Fix My Brain album closes with one thatís plenty speedy (the template, folks), but is framed with open, crashing power chords. Itís got an intro and bridge and all those flourishes Marked Men havenít always bothered with. Yet, when the twin guitars coil together, itís got a tripping-over-itself enthusiasm few can match.

By Ben Donnelly

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