A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Artist: Black Marble
Release Date: 10.9.12
Label: Hardly Art
Here at Forestpunk, we are writing in real-time, trying our damnedest to keep head above water, in the antediluvian torrent of brilliant, mediocre and awful music. We strive to be authoritative, but we are always catching up. You’ve got to pick yr battles, and use yr listening time wisely. As such, there are about 6 genres that have been perking our pointed ears, the past 2 to 3 years, and we will be starting with this core, expounding upon the central aesthetic that will become Forestpunk.
The first we’d like to talk about is cold/minimal wave, mainly because there is an ever widening river of tasty ’80s-influenced art pouring out of the nooks and crannies. While the term minimal wave is largely dished out upon new wave, synth-based music of the late ’70s and early ’80s, the term didn’t come into usage until the mid-2000s, when Minimal Wave Records coined the term. Wikipedia defines it as “focused on electronic, pre-MIDI (1982, but not pre-sequencer) instrumentation and themes of sincere, rather than ironic, detachment”. It goes on to describe its characteristics:
The genre’s hallmarks include minimal musical structures, relatively unpolished production, and the use of analog synthesizers and drum machines manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s. The instrumental arrangements featured “mechanical beats” and “short repetitive patterns”, plus “noticeably synthesized drum programming and trebly, thin melodies” which emphasized the artificiality of synthesized sound. Vocal arrangements “acted as a counterpoint to that artificiality.”
A Different Arrangement definitely features minimal musical structures (simple interlocking synth melodies), short sharp gridlocked beats, analog sequencers. It’s got “trebly, thin arrangements” (only as an element of lo-fi grit. This record was still made in 2012, and has a noticeably fuller bottom end then the first coldwave.) and the vocal arrangements “act as a counterpoint to that artificiality”, with Chris Stewart’s “resonant, reverb-smeared baritone” (from the Hardly Art website). All that aside, Black Marble are not exactly coldwave.
Other reviewers have called Black Marble simply electropop, and that is closer to the mark. A different arrangement has more of a passionate, beating heart than the opiate-addled disaffectation of standard ’80s new wave. If you google the band for 10 seconds, you will find a laundry list of musical influences; much has been made of the Black Marble’s similarities to Joy Division/New Order (Yes, Chris Stewart does sound like Ian Curtis a bit, and the bass lines are rather Hook-y), but Black Marble remind me more of a newer breed of electronic band, like a male Grimes fronting Future Islands. They may be referencing archaic sounds, but this band is entirely timely, of the moment.
Another critic panned A Different Arrangement as “emotionally stifled”, all of the songs sounding too much alike, but i would beg to disagree. ADA has a flow, a rhythm, to it; it’s breezy, streamlined, and lends itself to many repeat listens (i’m on number 7, as i type). There’s not necessarily a standout single, the album working as a whole. It makes great mood music, great to accompany yr daytime activities, reading, driving, shopping. Too many people have played up this album as being ‘dark’ but again, but i think they are confusing emotional with ‘mopey’ or ‘depressing’. This is the NEW new romantic, perfect for punk proms, indie dance clubs, late night driving on barren highways.
On the Hardly Art website, they described A Different Arrangement as “heralding the moment when the radiator finally sputters to life, flooding the room with heat as the sun rises over a horizon of Brutalist tower blocks. The homemade soundtrack to a still, uncertain dawn.” which makes it a timely listen, even if it came out 5 months ago. Here in Portland, springtime is trying to cut through the perennial gloom of winter. Trees are starting to burst into blossom, and there is a freshness to the air. Around my house, the windows are starting to open up, and A Different Arrangement has been wafting on stray breezes, during long sun-dappled afternoons. This is transitional music, a homemade soundtrack to a still, uncertain dawn, indeed.
The more i play this record, the more i like it. The devil’s in the details, the way simple stacked synths lay over propulsive sequencers – it’s fresh and exciting! Human and technology, coming together.
Here’s the long and the short of it: if you like Joy Division, Fever Ray, Grimes, ’80s Cure, you will love the shit out of this record. It’s better than the majority of coldwave bandwagon hoppers out there, who are apeing style, rather than pursuing substance. Black Marble are exceptional songwriters, and the fact that this is their first release makes me think you’ll want to keep an eye on this pair.
Every song on the album is good, and i recommend taking it as a whole (preferably over and over), but ‘Cruel Summer’, ‘Limitations’, and ‘A Great Design’ are great songs, on their own, and are a good place to start, if you are merely curious.
I recommend this record highly, especially if you are curious about new movements in the synth underground, and are looking for a place to begin.
find it on AMAZON: A Different Arrangement