Beulah and Marah: The Best Bands You’ve Never Heard Of

January 30, 2008

I was thinking again of an NYTimes op-end piece I read years ago by Nick Hornby (yeah, him, the About a Boy guy) called Rock of Ages. Hornby writes about hearing Marah play a spectacular show in a pub in Kent, England, and then having to pass a hat around to help defray costs. Hornby muses about what success in the Rock world means, particularly in light of the fact that after one great album after another, Marah is still not a hit success.

The article had a huge effect on me, and launched me into my current obsession with alternative, indie music, the smaller the better. I downloaded a few songs (demos of East and Feather Boa) that Marah had provided on their websites (something that “unsuccessful” bands have to do), and realized that these songs were better than just about anything I had seen the mainstream music industry promote in years. If they weren’t telling me about bands like Marah, who else weren’t they telling me about?

At this point it’s also worth pointing out that Marah isn’t some edgy band that has a sound you have to listen to a million times before you appreciate it (*cough* Neutral Milk Hotel *cough*). Marah has as much of a mainstream, classic rock sound as any band I’ve heard. Replace Springsteen’s Jersey with Philly and you’ve got Marah. Yet I had never heard of them, much less listened to them.

I happen to like Neutral Milk Hotel, by the way, but I understand how the major labels might have a hard time promoting him. But Marah? Who can’t sell Marah.

In a classic article in Salon, Courtney Love Did The Math behind the music industry, showing that a system that I had always assumed was promoting artists was really only propping up an archaic croneyed system of music publishers. The invisible hand wasn’t working in this case, for whatever reason.

The intervening years have been filled with a great deal of great music, almost none of it mainstream, or, at least, none of it made its breakthrough on a mainstream label. Another band that is worth mentioning in the same breath with Marah is Beulah. Beulah was one of the bands from the legendary Elephant 6 Collective (that also produced Neutral Milk, BTW). Put out some spectacular albums, most notably When Your Heartstrings Break, but never hit it big, and ultimately broke up a few years ago. Ultimately because no one in the music industry could find a way to sell Heartstrings, whereas they could find a way of selling the crap out of Britney or whoever.

Marah has a new album out, Angels of Destruction. Haven’t heard anything more than a track off the album yet, but it sounds like the typically great stuff from them. I’m going to make a point of buying the album as soon as possible. Maybe my sale will be the one to finally put Marah into the mainstream.

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