Portland, Oregon’s Muscle and Marrow write music that is at once harrowing and intense—yet also plaintive and vaporous. Formed in 2013 by Kira Clark (voice, guitar) and Keith McGraw (drums, sounds), Muscle and Marrow quickly discovered their distinctive sound. Taking inspiration from visual and feminist art, as well as contemporary poetry and literature, Muscle and Marrow is an entity that is as thoughtful as it is powerful, and as experimental as it is immediate. Their debut album The Human Cry was released in June 2014 by Belief Mower Records. Its songs were arresting and hysterical, but also distinctly feminine. Pitchfork called it “gorgeous” with Clark’s voice alternating between plaintive wails and guttural moans that soared over waves of pulsing drums and stifling guitars.
After the release of The Human Cry, Muscle and Marrow toured across the United States, playing alongside bands like True Widow, The Body and Author and Punisher, before heading east to record a new album. In October, 2015, the duo posted up at Machines with Magnets (The Body, Lightning Bolt, Marissa Nadler, Deer Tick) in Providence, RI with producers Seth Manchester and Keith Souza to record what was to become their sophomore album, Love. The band took their time in the studio and laid down seven tracks that delve deeper into electronic territory and incorporate the familiar droning guitars, rumbling synth and tribal drums throughout. Clark’s vocals are ghostly and chilling—almost unnerving at times—weaving intricate layers over a sprawling web of guitar and McGraw’s rumbling textures and drums. Clark commented, “With The Human Cry, the songs were much more straightforward guitar and drum songs. I would hand Keith entire songs already written, but with this record we toiled away at the computer adding electronic elements and a lot of vocal layering, almost like my voice (being many voices) is desperately trying to reach some sort of surface, to break through, but ultimately cannot.”
Lyrically, Love is powerful and more realized, with elements of joy, strength and anger present. During the album’s writing process, Clark lost a family member and much of the lyrical content focuses on loss, but also on love in general. How to love better, more and at all, and what happens when someone else loves you—the trap of that love but also the freedom it affords. Additionally, Love touches on feminism and female archetypes, a topic that Kira Clark is very interested in. She commented, “It’s cathartic and alluring for me to delve into feminine madness because, of course, that character is inside me somewhere all of the time and to give her permission to surface in my art is powerful.” These new songs are just as beautiful and complex as those on the band’s debut, but on Love, Muscle and Marrow push their craft further, bringing them to the frontier of avant-garde dark music.