Marsicans – Ursa Major
There’s been plenty of indie bands vying for your attention in recent years, especially here in the UK. Being so spoilt for choice there’s an ever increasing need to stand out from the crowd or risk being pushed aside and branded as a “landfill” band. (A term I have mixed feelings about, but that’s a rant for another day). Even the most finicky indie fans however will likely have a soft spot for Leeds quartet Marsicans. Setting themselves apart not only in how they all contribute vocals, but also for how joyous, vibrant and carefree their live performances are. They’ve seemingly been touring relentlessly (well, not recently, for obvious reasons) and have been part of the furniture in the festival circuit for a good while now, so it’s odd to think that they’re only just now releasing their debut album. It’s also odd how, despite having everything going for them, Ursa Major ends up falling flat in a myriad of different little ways.
It’s nothing new to have a debut album that paints a poor picture of what an act is really capable of. I’ve sadly seen it happen a few times to some Belwood favourites, where the album is either overly polished and loses a lot of personality or simply fails to capture the fire and gusto that makes the live sets so special. There’s a hint of the latter going on here, but it’s not the whole story. Tracks like ‘These Days’ and ‘Sunday’ feel a little tame; the kind of songs that are completely forgettable in their current form, but with the extra oomph afforded by a live setting could quite easily become real crowd pleasers. There’s certainly a few tracks where you don’t need to use your imagination though, just close your eyes and you’re there. The torrent of technicolour that is ‘Juliet’ opens the record with the musical equivalent of a fireworks display, ‘Sleep Start’ shows great light and shade between its subdued verses and the explosive chorus, while ‘Summery In Angus’ delivers warm summery grooves and infectious melodies aplenty in a festival ready anthem that feels larger than life. Some tracks don’t have the necessary spark, but the ones that do are everything I’d hoped they’d be.
Ursa Major‘s biggest issue comes from it’s pacing. We find lots of minor issues which, although not deal-breakers in their own right, all add up and hold the album back. It’s quite a top heavy record, with most of the finest moments found on the A side. There are nearly half a dozen tracks given over to unnecessary interludes that contribute nothing to the record besides breaking up the flow. About half of the proper songs on the album hang around the three minute mark. Don’t get me wrong, you can pack a lot into three minutes, but most of these songs feel like they’d have benefited from being developed further. At times it feels like as soon as the band hit their stride they decide to shift gears and move on to something new. It’s no surprise that the album’s longest track ‘Leave Me Outside’ proves to also be one of the best, really giving the driving bass, squalling guitar, emphatic hooks and the brilliantly moody bridge section a chance to leave their mark.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was the album’s quieter moments. It would have been easy for the band to make a debut of wall to wall indie disco bangers, so I admire them for branching out and trying new things, as well as for pushing forward with new material rather than falling back on old fan favourites. Sadly not all of these softer moments end up working or playing to the band’s strengths. The Bon Iver-esque vocal effects on ‘Someone Else’s Touch’ feel pretty out of place, and the rise and fall of ‘Blood In My Eye’ is lacking a little in variation. Again however, the problems that plague this record only do so sometimes. It’s on album highlight ‘Dr Jekyll’ that Marsicans avoid all the pitfalls and bring all their talents to the fore. Starting off subdued with a stunning airy arrangement that suits them down to the ground, it gradually builds and keeps kicking things up a notch until its electrifying conclusion, with its killer chorus acting as the unifying thread throughout. It shows that all the ingredients for greatness are present on Ursa Major, they just don’t always line up. Much like its constellation namesake, it’s quite easy to be drawn to points of brilliance, but it’s much harder to have them fit together to form a bigger picture.