It could almost be inferred that Jesse Marchant wrote the songs for his new album over a period of months in New York City during which a lot of his world had come out from under him, in what he has described as “a general period of falling outs, absence and abuse, both of self and of what should or could have been surrounding”. But in the process of finding an end to that Marchant feels to have grown. One is not left to wonder why he chose to drop the moniker of his former releases (his initials JBM) for the use of his proper full name, nor why his voice and lyrics, recorded with a mouth-to-ear intimacy, emphasizing his deepening and wearying baritone, sit loud and naked atop the widescreen backdrop of the deep synthesizer and orchestral pads and arrangements, often reminiscent of “I’m on Fire” era Springsteen. There is a sense of wanting to take responsibility and a desire to have things seen and said clearly for what they are, directly.
The production of the record reflects that same growth, balancing a new, vivid sound with matured control and rootedness. The lyrics were written later in that same year, when Marchant toured the country twice alone, on early mornings in motel rooms and for a period that he spent following, in a rented house far into the desert around 29 Palms, CA. The tone and image of this is carried throughout the record – drenched in a blinding white sunlight, in the heat, in a dream.
The songs that make up this eponymous album are menacing, dreamy worlds of their own, each one unique for each listener, instantly relatable and surprisingly therapeutic: Marchant’s revelations are infectious. He is processing internal and external problems that aren’t just personal but feel like signs of our times, and in doing so has created an album that feels particularly important, relevant, and powerful.
Starting with the ambitious 6-minute, lyrically dense album opener “Words Underlined,” Marchant quickly establishes this tone. “Where were you,” he asks, “when all of this was fucked and on it’s side?”
“I am on your side,” he sings in the very next song “All Your Promise”, with a feeling like the dilemma has been resolved. But this is not an album of resolution; it’s an album of disillusion. Even the album’s poppiest song, “The Whip”, contains a biting social commentary: “everybody likes to feel they’re holding the whip.”
But for all its philosophical, world-weary tendencies, the album is really based in themes of lost love and failed relationships. Not in a conventional sense, but in the decidedly 21st century conundrum of looking for love in the age of disconnection. Marchant’s disillusionment is rooted in this disconnection, and ironically, it exists in opposition to his uncanny ability to articulate himself through music and, in turn, connect with listeners. But when focused on an individual, these theoretical ideas become painful realities.
Later in “The Whip” he sings, “I felt the sun…then I lost you…and I never got it back.” In “Every Eye Open,” he continues, “I’ve been living in lies too… and the secret sin that I’ve loved you for more than a little while.” And in “Stay On Your Knees,” “love was real, but the meaning was wrong.”
Whether at odds with the outside world or the world within him, the battles Marchant fights on this record are such that any intuitive, conscientious listener will relate. Perhaps the entire notion is contained in a single couplet from “Snow Chicago,” that feels at once exhausted and revelatory: “I just wanna feel at ease / And that for once I do belong.”
HEATHER WOODS BRODERICK
Heather Woods Broderick excels at distilling her experiences into a soulful melancholy that's enduring both for it's intimate relatable moments and its persistent sense of mystery. Her uncanny ear for evocative production and gorgeous vocal harmonies serves her well on her new album Glider. Throughout the album, the rich dreamlike atmospheres she creates hint at a darkness looming on the horizon, while the singularity of her ethereal voice always seems to linger long after the music has stopped.
As a talented multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Heather has had the opportunity to record and tour with plenty of incredible artists including Horse Feathers, Efterklang, and Sharon Van Etten, which has kept her moving house and traveling around the world for much of the past decade. She's currently living in Portland, Oregon, but it's easy to imagine how her peripatetic lifestyle might diminish her sense of a place to call home, while also strengthening her resilience, and her connection to the reassuring constants in her life. As she explains "Living in so many different places has made me able to feel pretty comfortable everywhere." Her uncommon sense of ease and grace, despite her hectic life, stems in part from her deeply rooted and intertwined musical and familial background.
Music took root in Heather's life before she was even born, when her parents, both musicians, met for the first time at one of her mom's gigs, which her dad was attending. The two married and moved to Maine where Heather, second of three children, was born at home. When she was 8-years-old the family moved across the country to Oregon, and soon after moving, she asked if she could take piano lessons, a practice she would continue through high school and into college. In elementary school band she learned flute, and later picked up cello and guitar.
Though the songs on Glider aren't explicitly about touring, her life on the road provides the backdrop and context for her songs that are often about relationships that naturally fade as two people grow apart. "I've realized that I really used the songs on Glider and the time I put into writing them as a way to pay some attention to things I'd been putting off, and to find some clarity around certain events," says Heather. Building on what she learned from her first solo effort From the Ground (2009), the dynamic structures and emotional complexity of her new songs are evidence of how much she's grown as a person and as a songwriter. More confident and self-assured than ever, songs like "Fall Hard" evolve from vulnerable bare piano and vocals to hypnotizing swells of vocals reminiscent of Grouper or Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser. Her voice soars in stride with a wall of guitars on "Wyoming", while "Mama Shelter" introduces a gentle groove as Heather conjures the sensuality of Stevie Nicks. The album closes with the heartbreaking "All for a Love", ending with the refrain "I can see our love is dragging you down." As dark as the sentiment can be, Heather always seems to be leaning into the light.