Album Review: Old Man Markley – Down Side Up

imageA band like Old Man Markley might seem an unusual addition to the Fat Wreck roster, certainly the label itself has attempted to push the unusual nature of the band’s sound. Despite this angle, however, this isn’t as rare and unique a sound as I’d been lead to believe. It would be refreshing if it wasn’t quite so laden with clichés and didn’t sound quite so close to some years old Chuck Ragan tracks. There’s doubtless a passion about Old Man Markley that serves them well, indeed I find it difficult to be critical of a record played with such intensity. But, nonetheless, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve heard this one before.

‘Down Side Up’ arrives at a thousand miles an hour and with more twang than anything you’ve ever heard with ‘Blood on My Hands’. It’s catchy and well constructed but it sets an unfortunate tone for the album – it’s all too familiar. Even inside the genre bluegrass-country-punk, or wherever one might attempt to pigeonhole this album, this has been done to death and the album never changes. It’s just fast country music with poor lyrics and it’s difficult to make anything of it by the time the violins have tapered out and the song is gone.

The third track, ‘America’s Dreaming’, is perhaps the quintessential done-to-death song to end all songs. “If crooks are in charge, should we let them pick our pockets?” it begins: A somber country song about corporate propaganda and wars of greed. I’m amazed by just how jaded I find myself listening to this song, but it is just so flatly executed. It sounds nice, it sounds inoffensive; lots of sweet backing vocals, swells, and even more twang, but there are just too many clichés, both lyrical and musical for me to stand it without a little bit of annoyance. It’s not to say that people shouldn’t speak up on these issues, it’s more to say that if people keep raising them by saying nothing at all, no one is going to pay any attention.

Fifth track ‘Blindfold’ sounds like Weird Al Yankovic covering Bad Religion without meaning to. There’s a polka element, a bouncing rhythm, and solos on unusual instruments. Like much of ‘Down Side Up’ it’s not possible to pass it off as a bad song. ‘Blindfold’ is a good song, but it’s just that – good. This isn’t a great song, or even a particularly memorable song. It just calls to mind the artists who have already done the same and done it better.

‘Too Soon For Goodnight’, closes out the album with a more somber tone and yet still manages to sound almost exactly the same as every other track on offer. At this point Old Man Markley are beginning to sound like the wedding band from an upcoming ‘Hangover’-esque film. It’s silly vocally and simply standard musically.

This isn’t a bad album, some people might love it and that would be understandable too. But to me this album just feels like a big slice of nothing. The playing is proficient, the themes are amicable, and the belief in doing what they love is right there for anyone to see. But it also feels like Old Man Markley were so desperate to do what they love that they wrote the first 13 songs in their collective brain and rushed out to record them – admittedly to an incredibly high standard – leading to an unfortunately forgettable record.


‘Down Side Up’ by Old Man Markley is available now on Fat Wreck Chords.

Old Man Markley links: Facebook|Twitter

Words by Tom Knott (@nounandthenouns)


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