There's something to be said for kicking off an album with a rock-solid "fuck you." It's risky, sure. It's a finger pointed between your eyes, a drunken breath on the back of your neck.
"I'm not gonna hold my tongue. No, I'm not gonna hold my tongue for you," Marco Polio's Matt Hall swears on his album's opener "Grow Up." It's the sort of conversation starter that you know signals a rough night of bad news. Indeed, much of that album, called Wait and See, is a combination of hard truths and paranoid fantasies, a garden of dread.
Vacillating between what Hall describes as "lo-fi bedroom folk and fuzzed-out basement pop punk," Marco Polio's debut is a particularly fierce enigma of a record. It's not exactly out of nowhere — Hall's other project, Comrade Nixon, has been warmly received in these pages. But the album grabs you by the scruff of the neck early on.
After the seething condemnation of the opener comes the title track. "Tie up the loose ends in your head as best as you can, try to get your hands clean," Hall sings. There's a triumphant note in Hall's voice when he sneers, "Light a candle for me ... wait and see," as his band pounds it out like the Who in a garage.
Rochester, N.Y.-based musician Peter House is Hall's main collaborator in Marco Polio, though on the tracks when the folk gives way to bombast, the full band features Sam Egan on bass and Joey Burnah on drums. As a unit along with Hall — and some additional vocals by Christina Nori — Marco Polio have a distinctive sound. There are shades of early Blitzen Trapper and the Pixies' Black Francis. But Wait and See possesses restless anxiety and not a small obsession with death.
"Time to Go" is a musical version of the Edward Gorey classic The Gashlycrumb Tinies. Hall gleefully advises, "You can choose how you will go," before listing all the wonderful ways one can die — including helping clean up an oil spill and "getting in the way of a rich man." "Just Say When" is no less grim, name-checking assassinated Black Panther Fred Hampton.
Marco Polio's Wait and See is streaked with darkness, yet raw energy keeps it moving. It's never a downer, though only occasionally an upper. One such instance is the closing track, "Been to the Mountaintop." The tune rocks with a sort of staggering, drunken earnestness as the band pledges, "We are not afraid of death!" It closes the record on a defiant, oddly uplifting note.