My love affair with The Crackling began two years ago when I saw them open for Dan Mangan in Kingston, Ontario. Admittedly, I usually treat opening bands like I treat previews in movie theatres: a prolongation of my anticipation and a chance to pee. Now I’m not going to go ahead and say that I’m the biggest Dan Mangan fan out there, but I do obviously have the classic Vancouver girl crush on him, and I was excited to see my man Dan. So by the time The Crackling came on stage, I was sitting in my seat like a five-year-old in church and was getting ready to make an exit to the washroom. However, I decided I would stay for the first song to be polite and check them out, a decision I have been thankful for ever since. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds of hearing The Crackling for the first time to know that you won’t ever forget their sound. Don’t believe me? Try them out for yourself.
The Crackling only came out with their debut album Keep Full Ambitious in 2011, which is pretty unbelievable considering how fast their careers have escalated in these past two years to bring you Mary Magdalene. But do not be confused – these bearded men are not playing for amateur hour, they are well-seasoned professionals who are just now really starting to break into the Canadian music scene.
I want to start off by saying that Mary Magdalene is not recommended for people who necessarily want to feel happy after they listen to music. It’s that kind of Sufjan Stevens/Justin Vernon/Arcade Fire kind of feeling that makes you so terribly sad that it’s good. So if you’re one of those people who enjoys general happiness while listening, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this album for you. This being said, there are definitely happier songs on this album, even ending with the uplifting “I Love You Tonight”. This album is also one that should be listened to holistically as it has brilliant atmospheric and emotional evolutions and regressions that are worth comparing. However, for the most part this album will make you feel a haunting kind of folk presence.
This becomes clear in the first song of the album “The Harm”, with an introduction that sounds like it could be the music played against a Tim Burton film. It begins soft and eerie, and you’re not sure if you like it, but then Kenton shows off his vocal chords in a raspy bellow that is comparable to that of Dan Mangan. The music picks up to a happy folk vibe with horns and phenomenal instrumentation and you know you’re in for a treat with this album.
The next track “Keep Me Drunk” is the one that I would recommend first off to people. It was also featured on the Ashen EP. You will find some overlap among the two albums, but trust me – this is the kind of song that you want to be on as many albums as possible. Kenton has explained that the meaning of this title is not a literal one. In his words, it is meant to be “a manifesto for love”, encapsulating the excited and inspired intoxication he wants to remain immersed in, and in turn brings you into as well. The really special part of this recording is that it features the Vancouver Children’s Choir in the end refrain, singing “I hear what you say”. The repetition of these words is chillingly beautiful with the reverberation of their voices at the Vancouver Christ Church Cathedral where it was recorded. Another repeat that you will find on this album from the Ashen EP is “Suicide is Painless”. You will most likely recognize this song if you were any kind of M.A.S.H fan as it is an ominous rendition of that old theme song, reminding you how eerie those lyrics truly were; definitely worth resuscitating from the glorious graveyard of ’70s sitcoms (R.I.P. All in the Family).
Along with echoes of Dan Mangan’s style in their work, The Crackling can easily be compared to other great Canadian artists. The song “The Crackling” itself has a very Leonard Cohen vibe to it. That kind of low raspy music that leaves your bones feeling haunted and your ears wanting more. The song “Ashen” actually features Dan Mangan in it, and definitely has a resounding Neil Young style to its electric folk-stomp sound, beautifully complimented with heavy piano. Not only does this album echo Canadian greats, but it features many of them including Dan Mangan, JP Carter, Peggy Lee and Jesse Zubot, Debra Jean Creelman, and of course, the Vancouver Children’s Choir under direction of Rupert Lang. The Crackling have now officially joined the leagues of Canadian greats. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dan Mangan is opening for them someday soon and I find myself anxiously awaiting their performance. He is already singing backup, after all.
Be sure to keep your eye open for these guys, if only to be the person who says that “you knew them before they were mainstream”. The opportunity will only be available for so much longer.