A hint of loneliness festers a layer beneath Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s observational self-righteousness. Rønnenfelt, the brain that pulls together Marching Church’s mystical sound, is a muffled witness to the scourge the city has become. While Marching Church’s first album, 2015’s The World Is Not Enough, found the lead angst and curiosity, Telling It Like It Is is an emphatic and fraught response to urban dilapidation. If his lyrics are taken at face value, one might be surprised with Rønnenfelt’s efforts to bring others into the fold. With the help of crucial rhythms set by members of fellow Danish band Lower and Iceage guitarist Johan Wieth, Marching Church is richly textured despite its slight lyrical pretension.

Telling It Like It Is makes for a fascinating dive into a particular desperation. Marching Church amplifies feelings of isolation by playing with distant, disparaging sounds. Handclaps reign on “Up for Days,” but because of how far they seem from the audience’s ears they hardly feel triumphant. Agitated violins add heft to Rønnenfelt’s fatigued chant, “I can hardly see what’s in front of me.” The sonic texture is as discomforting as the songwriting here. The character Rønnenfelt embodies is numb to senseless societal excess: “What is it you think I feel?/ I don’t think, I don’t feel.” The song is decisively rock with punk outlook that is equal parts youthful and disillusioned.

There is a bit of levity on “Heart of Life”—the title itself harkens back to a John Mayer cut I’d happily forget—but heavy key strokes ground the song’s uplift. It is the first time Rønnenfelt mentions an outside community with a sense of joy: “My brothers catch me when I fall/…All my sisters kiss me on the cheek.” The track starts off bubbly but speaks to how that joy came out of a redemptive struggle. “Carving through concrete with a butter knife,” Rønnenfelt sings, illustrating how urban life is altogether isolating. His camaraderie with sisters and brothers came out of a difficult trial of endurance. He returns to the feeling of a lonely connectivity on “Inner City Pigeon” that borders on voyeurism. As a quiet observer he “Sometimes…looks through people’s window space” noting that they’re most often “lonely with technology.” The grimy punk adds a dirty sludge to the act of seeking out loneliness only to give way to a light choral backtracking. The whole experience speaks to the oddball feel of observation, especially when the pot is as black as the kettle. Regardless, Rønnenfelt is resolute in his position as an observer, “I’m never coming down.”

Marching Church’s sultry loneliness is felt through its claustrophobic composition. The ninth track of the album, “Information,” opens wide with a track that’s at once a mammalian roar and the bridging of a castle’s moat. Rønnenfelt is inundated with the “hundred trillion dollars in the fuel tank of currency, traveling at relentless speeds.” The informational walls are closing in—”Information is coming/ There is no escape.” Casting information as oppositional here jives right along with plodding industrial instrumentation. Marching Church’s forewarning of an information overload screams apocalypse. Unlike the rest of the album though, they sound legitimately worried.

The lyricism can get a little heady. “Achilles’ Heel” is ripe with loose abstractions that lack the realism of its surrounding parts. “My hands feel like burning desire…to steal, to steal, to steal…” presses on the boundaries of redundancy. The backtracking here is pretty standard rock unlike the various rich textures that add gravity to Rønnenfelt’s ponderings. But the missteps are few and far between. The album doesn’t lack for focus, illuminated most notably on the harmonization of “Lion’s Den” and “Florida Breeze.” The former can read as incomprehensible. With whistling falsettos and unintelligible lyrics, the point is to forget text entirely, to feel something. Light cymbal touches and sensory strings stitch together lightness and dread that defines millennial culture—pleased with the present and nervous for the future.

There’s always a dramatic irony when it comes to observational criticism. On the one hand, noting everyone else’s urban loneliness can offer some cathartic understanding of human desperation. We want to be connected. We’ve created all these ways to connect, but we still feel isolated. At the same time, one must also revel in their own loneliness in order to get by—seeing it in others undoubtedly shines light on that reality in one’s self. Marching Church’s Telling It Like It Is is a dark reflection on the ways that social relation grinds to a halt in light of new connective technology. But they hardly have any answers. That’s okay. Perhaps the first step towards a solution is just telling each other how we feel.

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