Ursa Major is a night out with friends you’ve known for years: it’s exhilarating, but also has a comfortingly familiar sound. Its clear Leeds-based Marsicans have lost none of their enthusiasm for music now that they’ve become more prominent ‘ones to watch’, for this is an album full of copious layered harmonies and enigmatic guitars. It could almost be considered cartoonish in its exultant indie-pop, if it weren’t for the sheer number of earworms.
The quartet have definitely had a few unexpected curveballs of late, from an endorsement by Coldplay, to postponing their long anticipated debut by months. However the curveball that may interest fans most is how electric Marsicans sound when they tone down this unlimited energy.
Someone Else’s Touch, a single positioned midway through the album, has a sombre sound, lamenting a long-lost but impossible to forget love. With lyrics like “I know in time you’ll find a better me”, “So I tell myself, someone else’s touch will have to do” and “I’ll force a smile, and try to laugh on cue”, Marsicans sidestep their signature playful sound for something more macabre. The result is a haunting track showcasing their universality. The theme of nostalgia crops up often in Ursa Major; mostly, however, the band wrap this up in a charming and flowery sonic package. Someone Else’s Touch therefore is a nice step back.
Juliet is a perfect example of Marsicans’ charm. Dealing with uncertainty around the band’s future, it has a delightfully cacophonous chorus of guitars to open, followed by segments of soft vocals detailing the millennial anthem of overthinking which then grows into a passionate chorus. These Days follows a similar pattern, with raucous, feel-good guitar mixed up in clean drums, it is essentially three minutes and 30 seconds of the sound of summer whilst talking about anxiety around socialising, so it is prophetic for 2020 as well as polished. The bridge on this track is particularly hypnotic and, in all, being deftly produced, it is a definitely a contender for the standout track on this album.
These Days’ competition, Summery In Angus, is where lead vocalist James Newbigging steals the show. From his grittier verse sung with hidden depths, to the high notes in the endlessly playable chorus, Newbigging shows his vocal range, whilst the rest of the band throw in quirky guitars and satisfyingly saturated backing vocals. This is a track that is almost too clever for its own good, and it unfortunately makes some of the slower tracks on Ursa Major like Blood In My Eye, or the folksy finisher Should’ve Been There, seem almost too tame. However, tracks like the intimate Evie intoxicatingly treads this line between brooding and playful a lot better. If These Days is pure summer, Evie is the moment you see the leaves changing colour and realise that summer is over – with experimental riffs, a bittersweet yet almost romantically nostalgic narrative and generous amounts of reverb, it’s really something.
Ursa Major starts off slow, with a steady instrumental named rather pretentiously Introduction, but it grows into something electric. This is Marsicans’ signature – they know how to build themselves up, and skilfully. From producing their EPs in a basement in Bradford, to recording this debut in the almost mythical location of Rockfield Studios, Marsicans keeps growing from strength to strength. Considering the band have been producing music for quite some time, their debut perhaps had more expectations than most, but it is both expectedly brilliant and unexpectedly expansive. These tracks were made for a live tour. Let’s hope they get a safe way to perform one soon.