Music

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

Photo: Ashley Leahy / Courtesy of Motormouth Media

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.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Music

Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.

Music

Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".

Music

Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.

Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.