Kids in Philly

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Kids in Philly is stunning in its diversity, and even more stunning in its ambition. The album forges its own confident, note-perfect rock & roll sound, while practicing the type of effortless stylistic hopping that hadn't been executed to such wonderful effect since the heyday of the Fab Four. It is a relentlessly infectious and mature album that displays an uncommon artistic authenticity. You would be hard-pressed to pinpoint Marah's direct precedents because their music is an entirely singular innovation. There are moments that recall both Bob Dylan (particularly the lyrical insight) and Bruce Springsteen, the roots rock and the white soul of early solo Van Morrison, while "Round Eye Blues" has the same slinky beat that lurks in "Every Breath You Take." Sonic touchstones pulled from the great eras of rock music's hallowed past -- bone-crunching acoustic guitar runs, punchy soul horns, block-party gospel background vocals, and ever-present banjo -- are boldly injected into the songs without reservation, but the album exhibits a vision that is quite personal and entirely unique from anything that came before it. David Bielanko's smoke colored, wisp-and-whine voice alone is the type of hallmark that is impossible to forget, but more impressive is Marah's musical invocation of Philadelphia, from the clever lyrical references to Todd Rundgren in "Point Bronze" to the shaggy-eared Philly soul beat of "My Heart Is the Bums on the Street." The city is not, however, just a colossal sonic influence on the album. Marah is spiritually and psychologically connected to every nook and cranny of its hometown, and Kids in Philly is literally a portrait of and homage to the city in the same way that Hotel California encapsulated mid-'70s Los Angeles. When listening to the album, every street and alley becomes crystal clear due to the band's mind-boggling lyrical gift. There is a real and complex viewpoint and storytelling acuity running through the album, whether it be the bus ride heartbreak of "Faraway You" or the staggering depth of "Round Eye Blues," on which a bitter Vietnam veteran tells his tale, an astonishing piece if one stops to consider the observations being spoken actually come from the mouths of twenty-somethings. The album contains one gem after another, and it leaves you feeling like you have just listened to one of those landmark musical achievements.

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