Photo: Ashley Leahy / Courtesy of Motormouth Media

A Move to LA Has Had a Profound Effect on Synthpop’s Black Marble

Black Marble leaves behind the obscure, lo-fi, and dim essence of the past for the brighter, more melodic, synthpoppy Bigger Than Life.

Bigger Than Life
Black Marble
Sacred Bones
25 October 2019

Post-punk and new wave music convey a peculiar dichotomy. On the one hand, there is an inherently cold and detached quality, a feeling of being at odds with the world. But at the same time, there is a distinctly catchy and direct element to this scene, which in turn provides a strangely uplifting characteristic. It is this peculiar state that Christ Stewart of Black Marble understands so well. And even if he was not around during the prime days of new wave, Stewart has always displayed a keen understanding of this key attribute of synth-based by way of post-punk scene.

Steward established Black Marble in Brooklyn in 2012, releasing two excellent works in A Different Arrangement and It’s Immaterial. Stewart’s approach at the time displayed a purist perspective, with a strongly retro outlook. The lo-fi perspective of A Different Arrangement adorned this work with an old-school vibe, dulling down the melodic quality of Black Marble while propelling its rhythmic bravado. The vocals, very nicely mixed lower, making them a counterpart to the instrumentation oozed with the dim perspective of the ’80s, and the powerful bassline set loose to mold an intoxicating groove. In the subsequent release It’s Material, Stewart followed the same recipe, extending the atmospherics of his work. This time the claustrophobic quality of the debut subsided, allowing for an ethereal interpretation to shine.

Following the release of It’s Immaterial, Stewart moved to Los Angeles, and this change of scenery found its way into Black Marble. Bigger Than Life is a different beast, with Stewart gracefully letting go of many past practices in favor of novelty. The lo-fi elements are alleviated, giving way for a much catchier representation with a crisp and defined sound. The synthesizer melodies fully expand, allowed to surf on top of the bright production, setting a direct and catchy element that was hidden beneath the lo-fi production.

Through this approach, Stewart replaces the cold tone of Black Marble’s early days with a newfound vividness, resulting in moments of pure bliss with “Private Show” and “Grey Eyeliner”. While A Different Arrangement and It’s Immaterial relied on a grim quality, Black Marble now happily stand on top of pure nostalgia. The introduction to “Feels” flows with pure ’80s goodness, taking you back in time with its magical lead work. Similar is the case with opener “Never Tell”, which makes use of a hooky progression to achieve the same end.

Yet, where Black Marble have really shifted is in Stewart’s approach to the vocals. Instead of considering the vocals to be an intricate element of the music, this time around, they are placed over the music. They are exposed and in the spotlight, something that has allowed Stewart to create some of his catchiest moments to date. “One Eye Open” is a brilliant example of this mentality, as Stewart tackles the need of the artist to outperform themselves to keep the audience’s attention constantly. “Daily Driver” exposes the ethereal inclinations of new wave through a subtle and emotional performance, while closer “Call” takes on cold wave aesthetics, with the big echoing vocals appearing through a tempest of synthesizers.

Journeys are not always easy, changes are hard, but some times are necessary. A change of scenery can always have a profound effect on someone’s outlook and alter their creative output. Listening to Bigger Than Life, the direct and catchy quality, the nostalgic underbelly, and the stunning melodies that decorate this work, it seems like the move to LA had a profound effect on Stewart. It has exposed a side of Black Marble that was well hidden in the past. Hopefully, he will continue to explore all its intricacies.

RATING 7 / 10