"Marble Son," the new album by Seattle's Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter, is darker than past work, a reflection in part, she says, of the fact that the band recorded the album during the Gulf oil spill. But the dark nature of Seattle itself was also an inspiration. Sykes performs Thursday, Aug. 4, at...
Go ahead. Judge the album by its cover.
The artwork for “Marble Son,” the fourth release from Seattle’s Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter, is greasy black with smoke (clouds? steam?) ghosting skyward. It captures perfectly the feeling of this miles-deep psychedelic opus. It’s a dark, guitar-orgy of an album, the most complex and rock-fueled to date by Sykes, who plays Thursday at Showbox at the Market.
“Marble Son” opens with an eight-minute odyssey called “Hushed by Devotion.” It was the first song recorded, and its ebbs of guitar and hushed waves of vocals set the tone for the rest of the album.
“When we were in the studio, the oil spill was happening, and every day I was obsessing on it,” said Sykes, who co-founded the band in 2002 with guitarist Phil Wandscher. “We all agreed that it sort of felt like that song had this sort of sinister quality, like it could be a soundtrack for that oil billowing up though the ocean.”
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Chaos, complexity and transformation are words Sykes mentions frequently. It’s not surprising, given the changes she and the band have faced in the years since their previous record in 2007. One of the biggest: Sykes and Wandscher ended their 10-year romantic relationship. They remain artistic collaborators.
That change, Sykes said, isn’t a negative one.
“We’re able to deeply appreciate each other through the energy we create with each other on stage,” she said. “We just have a deep respect and a deep trust, and we guard it with every fiber of our beings. This creation, it’s sort of like, one could say, our child.”
If the band is their offspring, it’s a rapidly maturing teen trying to make sense of a world — and a city — with some dark undercurrents. Sykes has lived in Seattle for 20 years, and she said the city’s sometimes-somber musical legacy and sky seep into her music.
You can hear traces of this depth on all of her albums — and in Sykes’ mesmerizing, breathy drone. But in the span of its four albums, the band has gradually embraced a darker rock sound, Wandscher shedding his roots as co-founder with Ryan Adams of the country band Whiskeytown.
Sykes acknowledges, though, that “Marble Son” may also shed some listeners.
“It does challenge you; it requires you to go on the journey with it,” she said. “You can’t be a passive participant.”
Sykes adds, “A good artist that’s valid and relevant is an artist who evolves … I’m grateful for anyone who is moved and touched by what I do but, that being said, I’m not afraid to lose the ones who are closed-minded.”
Joanna Horowitz: email@example.com