One of the things I look for when I listen to music is something that catches my ear, something unique and different, something that makes a band stand out. Sometimes it’s a name (The Deadly Gentlemen, The Barefoot Movement) and other times it’s a unique sound (Delta Rae, Lord Huron). In the case of Seattle’s Hey Marseilles, it’s a little bit of both. From a name that rhymes to the cello and accordion, this band will sound familiar enough to be comfortable in your CD player and unique enough to make you really listen.
What really makes Hey Marseilles unique is the diversity of sounds they produce that work together so perfectly. Using traditional instruments, i.e. guitar, drums, mandolin, in combination with a full time cellist, viola-ist, and accordion player makes the band something truly special. On tracks like “Demian” and “Madrona”, you see the hauntingly beautiful soundscape that these instruments can produce. These instrumental tracks are some of the best on the album and something that we honestly don’t see enough of in music today.
The album, thematically and musically, has a very definite trajectory. There’s a goal, an aim, to what Hey Marseilles is doing here and it’s pretty astonishing to think about collectively. They’ve created, sonically, a very layered album, one that reveals something new after every listen. Thematically, Lines We Trace is about love in all of its wonderful and terrible power. It begins with “Tides”, a song that begins “Go back to where we started…” and perfectly elicits the feeling of regret and lost love. “Heart Beats”, one of my favorite songs of the year, is far more straightforward. It’s a song about acceptance, seen perfectly in the line “I will look back and I will hold fast to this.”
The next few songs are nostalgic songs, ones that look back and ask the questions that every spurned lover has felt. “Elegy” and “Bright Stars Burning” are particularly beautiful and difficult songs for this very reason. “Madrona”, one of the beautiful instrumental songs on the album, seems to serve as the turning point for the emotion of the album because the next song, “Hold Your Head”, is one of acceptance and coming to terms with love. “I will hold you until we know to go our separate ways.”
The album ends with “Looking Back” and “Cafe Lights”, both much more optimistic songs. “Looking Back” quickly shows that sentiment, “If you’re looking back you’ll never move your feet./ If you’re looking back that’s all you’ll ever see./ When I find my way to you I know I’ll stay./ When I look ahead I know you’re all I need.” That optimistic and hope is seeping out of this song. Finally, we have “Cafe Lights”, a love song written from a collective perspective, one that signifies and shows the kinds of happiness that love can bring.
The inclusion of strings and instrumental songs on Lines We Trace is something that makes this album a must have. It’s a beautiful album, individually and collectively, and the thematic and sonic vision that Hey Marseilles has displayed here are rare gems in music today.