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Mark Sultan

Whatever/Whenever

(In the Red; US: 25 Oct 2011; UK: Import)

Mark Sultan is a human paradox. One would be hard-pressed to find a musician that is more prolific as far as recording output is concerned, but also one who garners less attention from the media. And though so many of his tunes espouse a general sense of chaotic benevolence, dude is really quite reserved in interviews.


He’s spent his past banging around cities like Berlin and Montreal under a variety of monikers with cats like King Khan and the Black Lips. And he’s no stranger to controversy either, with trouble following him and whoever he seems to be playing with. Finally, recent posts on Sultan’s website have lead fans to believe that he remains quite disjointed with the handling of $, his most recent full length on Last Gang Records. 


So for Sultan to release two LPs at once on his own, one can assume that Whatever, Whenever is meant to serve as a sort of eponymous, all-encompassing statement regarding his current position in the music industry. And though Whatever, Whenever is the condensed, CD-only version of the two vinyl only releases (Entitled Whatever I Want and Whenever I Want) it still delivers the kind of frantic, sloppy, but ultimately endearing blend of garage rock, soul, and doo-wop that Sultan has become known for, albeit in small circles.


It’s a statement from Sultan, but only in that he is relentless in continuing to stick to his vision and aesthetic. Is Whatever, Whenever a solid listen, full of commercially-appealing hits? Of course not. But is it a solid snapshot of Sultan’s approach; one of pure, gritty recordings that amplify his timeless sense of how to craft songs that shift and bend with every listen? Absolutely.


Listing genres that Sultan falls into is easy but rather futile, considering he can touch on so many genres with ease. Whatever, Whenever is no different. What many may mistake as rather shambolic is simply a glimpse into a musician who looks at genres as constrictions. The jump from groovy, California-tinged, three-and-a-half-minute “Axis Abraxas” to album closer “For Those Who Don’t Exist”, an eight-minute, free-flowing, jazzed-up arrangement is indeed a large one.


Yet in between those two tracks, Sultan’s songwriting takes listeners on a fearless journey: “If I Had a Polaroid”, a fuzzy, ‘50s inspired jam, blends into the loose pound of “Never Coming Home” with relative ease, all stitched together with Sultan’s scratchy tone. That Sultan won’t release a comprehensive album of similarly-sounding tracks may frustrate some listeners; indeed, Whatever, Whenever will certainly cause many to scratch their heads. But in an age when being a “garage-rocker” constitutes pounding out a dozen or so terribly comparable tracks, Sultan presents himself as an artist without many contemporaries.


One might be safe in concluding that this was Sultan’s goal on Whatever, Whenever, if it isn’t abundantly clear that Mark Sultan just can’t be bothered to care how others perceive him. “Graveyard Eyes” moves with a lazy afternoon sway; “Let Me Freeze” is a barreling slice of punk fury; and “Calloused Hands” may be the closest thing to typical “garage-rock” on Whatever, Whenever. As evidenced, Sultan sounds as if, creatively, he’s forever teetering on an explosion of sonic possibilities.


Mark Sultan has never been an artist comfortable with compromise. Whatever, Whenever gives heed to the future of Sultan’s artistic capabilities: just keep doing whatever sounds appealing at the time of recording. It may not always sound concise, but it’ll always sound genuine.

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Joshua Kloke is a music writer and hopeless Toronto Maple Leafs fan who splits his time between Melbourne, Australia and Canada. He's contributed to The Vancouver Sun, Exclaim!, Beatroute, Beat Magazine, Time Out and veri.live.


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