I wish I could find a way to make this album fit inside this review. I wish I could take the music and the words and every emotion I've felt while listening to 20,000 Streets Under the Sky and cram it all into this measly little blog, but I can't do it. This album is just too big.
This is urban music, or at least, it's what urban music was before the phrase "urban music" was hi-jacked by record companies and filled with racist overtones. This is music about urban life. These are songs about living and dying and growing up and growing old in crappy streets filled with run-down rowhouses and Chinese take-outs and drug dealers and sunsets that tease you with promises of a better life.
Unlike most rock (and "urban") artists, Marah understands that joy and pain are soulmates who walk hand-in-hand through our lives. It almost seems like the darker the subject matter of the words, the harder the band worked to infuse the music with light. They understand that the city is a tough place, a place of perseverance, but it's also a place of hope and magic and love... sometimes even when you're an addicted tranny hooker or a kid who is dying in the arms of the only girl who loved him.
The music is everything great rock music should be: passionate, energetic, and genuine. The album would shine even if the lyrics were generic moon-june-spoon crap, but these words are exceptional. Most of them can stand on their own as poetry, a feat that few lyricists ever achieve. David Bielanko has a genuine gift with words, and in a fair world, he would be held in the same esteem as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits.
Packaging: (Altered by EPFL?)
The artwork is a bit boring, at least on the EPFL's version. (Versions I see online are slightly more compelling.) The band offered an incredibly deep pool of lyrical imagery (not to mention an obvious reference to the original Alphonse de Neuville and Edouard Riou illustrations of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), and a more gifted designer could've done wonderful things with the cover and liner notes. But the lyrics are included, and with an album like this, that's the most important thing for the package to contain.
Listen if you like: Bruce Springsteen is an obvious comparison, but the band sounds as if they're channeling The Boss' spirit instead of ripping off his notes. Fans of Dylan, Waits, and other great lyricists should absolutely give this a listen. Anyone who simultaneously loves and hates living in the big city will find many friends and neighbors in the characters who inhabit the songs.
If it were food, it'd be: A couple of slices of greasy pizza from the mom-and-pop take-out joint on the corner.