The Crackling has only been around for a couple of years, but the experience of its members shines through in Mary Magdalene, the band's sophomore release. Led by Kenton Loewen on vocals and guitar – better known for his drumming work with Dan Mangan and Mother Mother – his bandmates (Gordon Grdina on guitar and vocals, Tyson Naylor on piano and Jeremy Page on bass) each have their own extensive experience to draw on. In addition, guest musicians give the music variety and depth, including cameos from Dan Mangan, Jesse Zubot and many others.
The jazz background of many of the players is apparent in the technical talent and air of improvisation that these tracks display. “Ashen” showcases incredibly skilful piano melodies, kept loose and varied throughout, juxtaposed with a grungy guitar riff to create something completely unique. This is one of the more upbeat tracks, and it builds to a strong, beautiful climax that unifies the various styles and instruments perfectly.
The songs on Mary Magdalene are slower and more contemplative, creating a strong atmosphere that evokes a quiet, introspective, and slightly melancholy night. The band takes its name from the sound of burning wood, and the music somehow makes me feel as though I'm staring into the embers of a dying fire. It's difficult to explain, but these tracks are strongly emotional and relatable. The cover of “Suicide is Painless” aligns the instrumentation very closely to the serious, resigned lyrical content, creating a sound that is both tragic and strangely freeing. “The Cold Sky” is similarly evocative, with ambient, often atonal composition that is both memorable and interesting.
This is an album that absolutely must be listened to as a whole, and be given full attention. The individual tracks are skilfully composed and performed, but the value of Mary Magdalene is found equally in the emotional and atmospheric development from track to track. Listen carefully to each part and the ways in which instruments and tracks fit together, and this album becomes much greater than the sum of its individual songs.
– Aaron Swanbergson