The Building: PETRA (Concord) - Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019  

The Building

PETRA

Concord

Oct 15, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


The Building (aka Anthony LaMarca, best known as a member of The War on Drugs and St. Vincent's backing band), released a magnificently understated, unexpectedly moving beauty of an album back in 2017. Reconciliation was recorded half prior to, and half after LaMarca's initial cancer diagnosis, but his latest offering PETRA (named both for his German Shepherd and a useful, self-made acronym—Peace's Eternal Truth Renews All) is not only an even better record than the last but also feels harder won—being made under the shadow of another cancer diagnosis—and is simultaneously more hopeful, striving, tear-inducing, and self-realized than anything to which LaMarca has previously turned his remarkable talents.

It's a record that walks through emotional walls and is able to describe the fallout with eloquence and honesty. "My body transformed/From grace to a stone," he begins on the ambient, transformative opener "Transformer"—tender, hesitant, yet open and honest.

This kind of tough truth-telling recurs throughout. On the devastating "Life Half Lived" in which LaMarca declares a long term relationship dead—"There's no time life in my life/I can't love you any more"—there are also markers of realization and personal, even spiritual change. "It takes a lot to know you're weak/I can relive every failure and not be ashamed/You won't make me feel ashamed," LaMarca defiantly coos, his high-tenor voice cradling the tender message.

Backed expertly by his brother Angelo and wife Megan, this is a record that knows when to keep things small and subtle and also knows where to make you swoon. The contrast between, say, "Purifier"—a lonesome, solo acoustic bout of whispered intimacy, the isolation of illness expressed neatly and compactly—with "When I Think of You" is impressive but apt. The latter clashes sweet chiming guitar with squalls of half-buried feedback, LaMarca's voice highlighted luminously as he swoops and soars, delivering transcendent high notes and adding heft to truly simple, romantic lyrics like "When I think of you/I'm gone," sweet lines like "I want to be boring again/I want to be comfortable in my skin," and, over a swell of snare, cello and violin, a real killer: "I hate that this is hurting you/But this is happening to me."

Yet, it's much more than a record dealing with sickness, relating notions of masculinity to his experience on "Never Understand" with perhaps one of the most genuinely touching lyrics of 2019, including the lines "Now I finally see what it is to be man/it's okay to be wrong, to not know the end/That my own weakness is the ground on which I stand," and, on the closer and title track, taps into a well of positivity that's irresistible—delicate and vulnerable, slowly swelling to crescendo as LaMarca lays his hopes, his failings, his desire to do better and be better open naked across the grooves for all to imbibe. When the kick drum comes in you'll probably explode, and even the most miserable cynic should be caught up in the album's sing-along coda, LaMarca now backed by more voices, a full band, chanting evocations of love and understanding into the world. It closes a near-miraculous record on a note of joy that's palpable.

The world needs more records like this, more artists like LaMarca—bold, intuitive, and willing to expose themselves for their art in order to impart some hard-earned wisdom along the way. PETRA should, by any rights, be making Top 10 2019 album lists all over in a couple of months. If that kind of well-deserved success doesn't come about, both his audience and LaMarca can rest easy knowing that this is not only a truly exceptional achievement, but also a record to carry with you through life. (www.thebuildingmusic.com

Author rating: 8.5/10

Rate this album
Average reader rating: 8/10



Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.