Review Summary: “’Home’s never home’ said the prophet in plain clothes as he strummed his guitar and he screamed and he sang.”
“I’ve been low, but it never gets me down,” Defeater’s Derek Archambault crooned in the 2008 release Travels. This, by all accounts, was the earliest exposure that most Defeater fans had to Derek’s ability to write songs in genres that were not Hardcore. In 2011 their follow up breakthrough album Empty Days and Sleepless Nights gave the listener a further fix of Derek’s additional talent as an acoustic musician, this time with a more refined studio sound. I Don’t Mind essentially became the biggest hit from that album to the delight of people not into hardcore and to the ire of long time Defeater fans and Hardcore purists now dealing with these new fans. It would not have been until this year, 2 years since the release of Empty Days, and almost 5 years since Travels that Archambault would release a full length album showcasing his talent as a solo songwriter. Bone and Marrow is a spectacular display of Archambault’s capability as a musician as it is a surprisingly solid album.
Musically, the tracks in Bone and Marrow alternate between softer, stripped down tracks to ones that utilize a whole band. While songs of the latter like Keep Track/Lose Track and Family Tree are absolutely a treat, Archambault truly shines in his stripped down songs. I Don’t Feel Welcome Here or Anywhere feels more personal now that it lacks a lot of the backing instrumentation it had in its demo version. The true crown jewels of this though are Whiskey and Wine and Cab Rides and Cigarettes. Cab Rides and Cigarettes tells the tale of deriving boredom out of the routine of debauchery and promiscuity exemplified by Archambault’s singing of, “Same production, just different actors every night. And you’re not proud, but not ashamed. Sits alone, you ask her name. Always know the ending of this play.” over a chord progression that sounds slightly similar to what was played in Empty Days’ I Don’t Mind which is interesting due to the lyrical differences between the two songs.
Lyrically, Archambault focuses on themes of self-loathing and futile attempts to find solace in the bottle. Much of Bone and Marrow is displayed in only 3 lines that are found in the song Whiskey and Wine where Archambault tells the listener, “I hate myself for not leaving you. And they can drag and tow, and I’ll cut the line. And I heal my wounds with whiskey and wine.” Other songs tend to focus on Archambaults inability to find his footing in life such as in I Don’t Feel Welcome and Drowned while Lucky Me seems to be a love song and a promise not to break her heart in spite of his shortcomings. The final song of Bone and Marrow, Third Untitled, seems to be a reflection upon the 10 songs that were played before it. It serves as Archambault’s recognition that his struggles are nothing compared to the problems of others such as a man he talks about seeing in a cemetery mourning the loss of his wife. He finally comes to understand that his struggles are trivial in comparison, singing “And as much as I complain and cry about my perfect little life, I know I've got it made. It's just an awful mix of chemicals, these demons and black clouds follow me.” The song is a perfect way to end the album and helps bring the lyrical themes of all the prior songs full circle and compliments Archambaults ability to be both a stellar lyricist and an honest storyteller.
Archambault had stated in prior interviews that he was particularly influenced by artists like Cash and Elliot Smith in his acoustic work. While Bone and Marrow certainly displays the fine tunings of those artists, Archambault expertly blends them with a more modern and refined sound. Bone and Marrow is an excellent example of Archambaults capability of being a solo musician as it truly allows his ability to be a songwriter and storyteller outside the genre of hardcore to shine through. Given the stigmatization Defeater has received over the years, it is remarkable just how listenable Bone and Marrow really is. It truly is a great release for Archambault and hopefully he can follow up with something just as good.