Spare, minimalist, sparse, uncluttered, roomy -- these are the sort of adjectives that have typically been used to describe the Malarkies, a group that emerged in New York City (Brooklyn, to be exact) in the '90s. The Malarkies' rootsy work is not easy to categorize; some describe them as alternative pop/rock or lo-fi, and some consider them folk-rock. A few reviewers have even claimed that the Malarkies are part of the alternative country/No Depression movement, which is a questionable assertion. However one categorizes them, the Malarkies thrive on subtlety, restraint and understatement; they certainly don't feel the need to shout or yell in order to get or keep the listener's attention. No one will accuse lead singer/guitarist Matt Sutton and drummer/singer Ruth Keating -- the Brooklyn residents who comprise the Malarkies -- of having a dense, thick, crowded or claustrophobic approach; space is a high priority for the Malarkies, and they use it to their creative advantage. One of the good things about using fewer instruments on their recordings is the sort of intimacy that the Malarkies end up with; that intimate sound has a way of making their lyrics, melodies and harmonies stand out more. Of course, all that minimalism and sparseness would be a problem if the Malarkies' songs were lacking -- reducing the volume and the number of instruments gives artists fewer places to hide. But because the Malarkies are genuinely talented songwriters and performers, their use of minimalism is a definite plus. The Malarkies' albums have always had a do-it-yourself outlook, but never in a sloppy or careless way -- in fact, their recordings have an appealing sense of pop/rock craftsmanship as well as an experimental edge.
The Malarkies started out as a trio in 1996, when Sutton and Keating joined forces with bassist David De Mallie. Sutton and Keating (who has had a "day gig" editing television commercials) had both been with different East Coast bands before the Malarkies; Sutton is an ex-member of a band called the Smokers, while Keating's previous bands included Snackchunk and Elvis From the Waist Up. After De Mallie's departure from the Malarkies in 2002, Sutton and Keating opted to keep the group going as a male/female duo. The Malarkies recorded several albums in the late '90s and 2000s, including 1, When Every Metal Shines and Andiamo (all of which came out on Muss My Hair Records). Released in 2003, 10,000 Back Doors was the Malarkies' first album without De Mallie and their fourth album overall. The early 2000s also found Sutton and Keating backing singer Karla Schickele (who has been a part of the New York bands Ida and Beekeeper) on her project, K; Sutton and Keating can be heard on K's second album, Goldfish, which was released on the independent Tiger Style Records in 2002. ~ Alex Henderson