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.






PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.


Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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