Marc Carroll: In Silence

[8 November 2011]

By Matt Edsall

He’s got Bob Dylan spewing accolades his way, and yet no one really knows about Marc Carroll. He just got signed to UK indie label One Little Indian. He’s already set to rerelease his decade-long catalog (newly remastered and re-packaged) over the next couple of months. He’s also toured all over the world…numerous times. And on top of that, he’s written these 12 songs to add to the collection.

Yet it almost seems with all those accomplishments that Bob Dylan is the only person who knows about Marc Carroll.

Here’s the thing about this guy: For fans of Irish folklore, he’ll feed your fetish for storytelling and musical poetics, but for everyone else outside that group of eight people, Carroll will bore you really friggin’ fast. Whereas the music on his earlier work always masked the forlorn and subdued nature of his lyrics, this album’s instrumentation is just as melancholy as the subject matter, and though that’s usually the sign of a good artist, he loses a very key element to creating an interesting album: consistency.

In Silence begins with a new direction for the Dublin native, bristling with the hint of artistry a singer-songwriter of his tenure would hopefully peak at eventually. At the top, he takes us on an instrumental ride with “The Boy Who Dreamed”, setting up a dreamy haze with acoustic vibrato that chimes like the opening of a medieval drama, and the trance drifts into the powerful “Love Over Gold” that blisters with similar slide vibrato, feeling a bit like the soundtrack to a teenage fantasy series. Though Carroll probably won’t be making it onto any soundtracks with these two, his artistry is at a maximum for an album opener, transporting you to the mystical land he intended.

And that’s when pop comes into play with “What’s Left of My Heart?”, and the record quickly loses its luster. The dragons and fairies escape your mind, and you’re left with the image of a guitarist bearing his soul at a small coffeehouse; after such a strong beginning, it’s a shoulder-lowering letdown to what occurred just a minute prior. Even the following track, “No Time At All,” is by far the singularly most amazing track on the album, but as a mark within the record itself, it doesn’t do justice, playing up the singer-songwriter croons as more of a commercial tactic than something in which he really believes. And just when Carroll returns to folkloric measures on the fifth and sixth tracks, “Against My Will” and “Matty Groves”, the steel guitar storytelling comes to an abrupt halt as halfway through the album, we’re left with piano ballad sob fests akin to Michael Bolton. It leaves you wondering why the hell In Silence wasn’t released as two separate EPs.

Save for the winning closer “In Reverse,” which revels in murky ambient instrumentation Explosions in the Sky have built a career on, this record never finds its footing. Though it moves in a direction he’s never explored before, it has that same formula of “forget editing, just package” that his other work has fallen flat on, and it begs the question: How exactly does Bob Dylan like this guy so much? Because save for what the title wants you to think, this isn’t necessarily a quiet album, nor an album made by a patient man thinking about the mood he’s creating. Instead, In Silence is much more the work of an impatient man making music to keep his mind busy. And how does the guy who wrote “One Too Many Mornings” not critique that?

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