Imagine the most hellish time of your life. Chances are it’s got nothing on the tribulations recently experienced by local indie-pop act The Big Friendly Corporation. “It’s been a fun five years,” bassist Jeff Ford says with dry sarcasm, as only someone who has survived it can. The quintet dealt with illness, job loss, a miscarriage, band member departures and deaths in its families—most notably, the passing of musician and BFC collaborator Tommy Marth, brother to vocalist/keyboardist Melissa Marth and vocalist/guitarist Ryan Marth.
The unfolding of that tumult can be heard on BFC’s long-awaited fifth studio album, Carry On, Carrion, a tremendous, 24-song work documenting Tommy’s final year—he took his life almost exactly five years ago—and how his family and friends dealt with the subsequent revelations and grief. The title is meant to reflect both a rallying cry for those who continued on and the whimsy for which the band is known, the latter reference attempting to balance out the album’s sustained heaviness. Its five, themed transition pieces spell out the band’s bereavement. “I wanted us to create this series of stories about loss,” Ryan says.
A couple of numbers might not appear to address themes pertaining to Tommy’s suicide—Ford’s “Static” is unrelated, though pertinent to the narrative—but everything else does, if sometimes obliquely and/or with vocal recordings the band purposely obfuscated so as not to risk the stark lyricism overpowering the music (often gorgeously rounded out by guest choruses and instrumentalists, including the Marths’ vocalist mother Diane Eddington and guitarist father Thomas Marth Sr.). “Bring You Down” and “Foolish Girl” are stinging rebukes of an ex-fiancé who enabled Tommy’s off-and-on drug addiction. “Laugh at Your Own Joke” is about Robin Williams, but the suicide link keeps Tommy’s spirit close by.
Then there’s the Abbey Road-like, album-closing medley on Side 4 that climaxes with the melodically sharp but brutally honest “The Best Is Yet to Come/We Lost You,” where the siblings unload on their deceased brother for selfish choices. While drummer Brandon Johnson initially objected to its graphic depiction of the suicide, Melissa saw that both the catharsis and its honesty were necessary to the narrative: “Ryan was like, ‘NO! I’m f*cking pissed! It’s disgusting that this happened, what Tommy did to us. Our family is broken! It has to be what it was. I don’t care how uncomfortable it makes people. We cannot sugarcoat this.’ I was like, all right.”
Corralling the ambitious, two-and-a-half-year project was Melissa’s husband, Andrew Karasa, who recorded and mixed the record while his band The Clydesdale was on hiatus—which also led to him to join BFC. You can see him play with the band during this Saturday’s two-set album release show at the Bunkhouse, which will also offer a table sour “beermosa” Karasa convinced Henderson brewery Crafthaus to make just for the occasion—one that, despite the emotional music, won’t be another funeral, but a celebration of life, one Tommy himself could appreciate. “I think he would be very happy with [the album],” Melissa says. To which Ford adds: “He would play on it!”
Cue band laughter—some much needed and well-earned laughter.
The Big Friendly Corporation with Blair & Chani, The Steady Extras. April 29, 9 p.m., $5. Bunkhouse Saloon, 702-854-1414.