You may know Maryn Jones as the frontwoman of Salinas Records’ pop punk band All Dogs. You may know Maryn Jones as a member of folk rock outfit Saintseneca. You may know Maryn Jones for her solo work as Yowler, because let’s be straight, this album has been out since March. But we’ve never let tardiness get in the way of writing a review, so on the off-chance you know nothing about this album, then here’s why you’re in for a treat.
The Offer is Jones’ first album as Yowler, and one which sees things pared back a whole lot from her work with other bands. The album was apparently recorded in living rooms and bedrooms in the winter of 2013/14, and this secluded recording method is clear to hear. All eight tracks are a study in the art of minimalism, of the exchange between poetry and negative space. There is surprising diversity between songs, but the entirety is mired in a feeling, as if the songs were born out of a frame of mind rather than pure musical inspiration. Whatever the case, Jones creates an atmosphere of haunting intimacy (imagine a Sarah Winchester-fronted Old Earth playing a very quiet acoustic set in your attic at 3am), her voice taking centre stage despite oftentimes being barely more than a whisper.
Opener ‘Water’ burns with quiet intensity, its strange lyrics (it opens with the line “Got to disappear in some great void of water”) feeling oddly personal, giving the whole track the intimacy of hearing about someone else’s dreams. This sensation is one which continues throughout, right down to the visuals of the artwork. The guitars sidle and prowl like shadows and the whole thing seems on the verge of something vaguely dangerous. It’s a lot more than just quiet and pretty folk music, in fact the closest comparison my brain could muster was Brian Borcherdt’s Dusted project, more for the atmosphere than anything tangible. Follow-up ‘Bedroom Wall’ builds this thick smoky ambience with guitars that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Grouper record, but the vocals slash through with clarity, sonically if not thematically, opaque poetics delivered with remarkable confidence. ‘Yowler’ is mostly acoustic guitars and some reserved percussion, allowing Jones’ vocals to give the song its impetus. The lyrics are very sad and strange but also weirdly sweet. Make no mistake that this is, at least on some level, a love song:
“There were ghosts in the sidewalk that night
But the fear of them was absent with you by my side”
‘Holidays’ opens with a brief rumble of oppressive noise, little more than a squally suggestion that feels like a portent nonetheless. When the track starts proper the delicate acoustics and gossamer vocals sound crystal clear and desperately sad, an aural trick that matches the mood of the song as Jones relays the deepest fears of her dreams and nightmares, laying everything bare for the listener, as if her skin has gone all glassy so that we can see the workings of her body pulsing and whirring inside. The majority of the lyrics deal with dream images of being born in a river, under sheets of ice, but the final lines seem like a devastating return to reality, painting the portrait of somebody struggling, “And at Holidays I remember they asked me how I was / And at Holidays I will wonder ‘How much longer?’” ‘7 Towers’ feels spacious, lines of electric guitar floating and swaying in the background, while ‘Belle’ is probably the closest thing to an acoustic folk song on the album, albeit one submerged in underwater reverb. It’s ostensibly a love song, as the beautifully crafted chorus attests:
“The sunset in August in the back of your car
The wondrous falling of a star, far
But close in the shadow of the garden at night
I want to come with you, I will try”
Penultimate track ‘In the Bathroom’ is hushed and subdued, perhaps detailing feelings of desperation and depression, “To be so full and surrounded by breathing bodies / But only holding one’s mind, having one mind / And it’s not offering anything, no help of any kind”. Finally, the title track offers a pretty devastating distillation of everything the album does and stands for. It’s sparse and dreamy, the by now familiar guitar and vocals augmented with piano and cooing group vocals. The song an unadorned murmur, as if Jones has leaned right in to your ear to deliver the final lines:
“So the offer I make
Is a promise to stay here
May they leave me out their wandering
And be still”
Water permeates the record in all of its guises, in rain and in blood and in sinks, in rivers and seas and oceans, in sheet ice and snow melt and the film over an eye. The Offer becomes the great body of water foretold in the opening track, sometimes frozen and sometimes roiling and always deep and lonely and full of strange, unrecognisable creatures which move according to the primitive, instinctive logic which constitutes existence.
Edit July 2017: Double Double Whammy recently re-released the record on a variety of formats, so head over to the shop to grab the one for you. Of course, you can still download it from the Yowler Bandcamp page if you’d prefer.