Marrow in the human body is the substance which keeps bones healthy, strong and provides integrity to the rest of the structure at large. Similarly, the members of the Chicago band by the same name have a long history of being supportive, central characters to the scene that has emerged around them over the last half-decade or so and put their own mark on this moment in time with their full-length debut, The Gold Standard, which was released last Friday.
The four-piece indie rock group is a re-formation of one section of the vaunted former Kids These Days collective. That seven member assembly so far has boasted talents like Roc Nation's Vic Mensa, Donnie Trumpet and Greg Landfair of the Social Experiment and JP Floyd who has toured with the likes of Bette Midler, Frank Ocean and The O'My's. For their part, Macie Stewart, Lane Beckstrom and Liam Cunningham have gone in a similarly experimental journey since KTD's breakup in May of 2013. Picking up drummer Matt Carroll in the process, Marrow proved the kind of range they could achieve on their own with the December 2013 release of their EP, TWO which was essentially just a two song sampler of the tracks "She Chose You" and "Mother of Maladies" which were tied together marvelously by an Austin Vesely-directed visual. Since then, the band had been largely quiet on releases, gigging around the city and gaining the favor of well-respected critics at home and abroad while Cunningham toured the country with Jeff Tweedy and Stewart lent a hand to Chance The Rapper and The Social Experiment while they hit the road.
2015 has been a year of forward progression though from the quartet of studio rats so dedicated to their craft that they dug out the basement below Cunningham's family home in Logan Square to install a state of the art recording studio where they built The Gold Standard between sessions with the likes of NoName Gypsy, SOX, Exit Ghost and Eryn Allen Kane, the last of which benefitted from her time there which is evident in the folkiness of her latest single "Slipping". Marrow approached this calendar carefully, like a snake sizing up it's prey. They released their lead single, "Paulson" back in February. A up-tempo guitar-driven track, "Paulson" puts Stewart front and center over riffs that seem taken from generations prior, albeit with a certain understood progression. That track was followed by a very confusing video once again from Vesely and a couple more previews of the album, the previously-released "Mother of Maladies" and the title track, "The Gold Standard". Released within three months of each other, each promotional drop seemed to not only build a buzz around a band that many had been waiting to rollout for a year plus, but also continued to prove the tremendous amount of range the group is able to achieve.
If anything, this is the prevailing feeling that envelops The Gold Standard. Whereas "Paulson" is a vibrant head-bobber capable of pitting a crowd into a frenzy, "The Gold Standard" is a harmonic comfort track that plays heavily on the interplay between Stewart and Cunningham that takes on a sort of early Fleet Foxes sound while carefully building to an apex. Much of the wait for The Gold Standard has gravitated around what the record would actually sound like, which direction they would go. In the end it appears they went in every one possible or within reason, proving along the way that they can handle a bevy of sounds, inflections and emotions but maybe without staking a flag to any one particular sound or aesthetic throughout. What we get, essentially, is a very well put-together sampler platter of sorts for what we can expect moving forward from Cunningham, Stewart and co. It's an evolved TWO, another step forward but not yet the penultimate release that will define their path.
Perhaps that path is undefinable though. One common thread that has emerged in the wake of KTD's demise has been the immense musical influences that are apparent from Mensa to Donnie to these three. Whether it's Vic taking stabs at house and dance aesthetics to Donnie's mixing nuanced jazz with westside bop or Marrow's willingness to explore the full-breadth of what an "indie" band can really be, the roots of each seem to be hard at work today as they ever were when all sides of the group were one. Everyone has branched out on their own journeys and with this latest chapter, Marrow proves that they can do just about whatever they want musically, they might just have to decide what that will be precisely.