J. Marsden will host a release party for Gravity at the Frequency on August 24th at 8:30 pm. Also on the bill are Imaginary Watermelon (read the review of their debut recording here), SADBOYES and Random Lama.
J. (Joe) Marsden is a talented singer, songwriter and former member of ska/punk band 4 Aspirin Morning and funk/metal band Wall of Funk. As a solo artist he’s taken to acoustic guitar in performance and darkening his tone and delivery. Gravity, however, is far from an acoustic album.
Marsden’s music is for the thoughtful listener, has an artistic integrity and is expertly crafted, exploring existential topics that are laced with love, loss and uncertainty. He’s described the album as “a beautifully dark adventure away from Earth,” and “an emotional trip through the stars.”
Marsden recruited fellow MMI graduate/Full Compass Sales Associate Jared Norton to engineer and supply the drum tracks. Marsden supplies the rest of the instrumentation; guitars, bass, vocals, synths. The sound can be dense but with breathing space and is both dramatic and dynamic. “Space” is actually the key to Gravity’s concept, which is a futuristic tale about a central character, who leaves Earth with a group of similarly disillusioned people on a quest of self-discovery. They find themselves even more disenchanted, however, and decide to go back. On returning they find the planet desolated and in ruins and rededicate themselves to restoration. Though it’s a fantasy, Gravity can be interpreted metaphorically as an emotional journey from flight to fight: A love is lost, humanity seems lost. The tendency is to shut oneself off, go it alone, to drift away into the cosmos. Eventually the loneliness of utter isolation and the memories of what was lost take over and there is the urge to fight – to fix it. The realization that what once was is forever lost but there is strength to be found in revitalization; the rebuilding begins.
Marsden’s wide range of vocal style allows him to communicate all of these emotional states effectively, from disillusion to discovery and euphoria, to confusion and loneliness, and finally to utter strength. Often he stays in the baritone range, which allows for exposition but he can also belt it out when called for or rise to falsetto for the more mournful passages. While vocals are a strength he also has a knack for guitar styling, providing both power and nuance in the melodic lines and chord structures. There are also some explosive solos. It’s firmly nestled in 90s grunge but there are elements of Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and space rock. Song structures are full of twists and turns and do not entirely hold to conventional structures, many of the tracks connected by electronic interludes that resemble space travel.
“Such a Mess” opens the album with a cool riff, emoting power; the guitar tones are impressive, there is a melodic solo and the angst-ridden lyrics setting the stage for the storyline. The final verse explodes into layered vocals and guitars laced with feedback. “Far Beyond” follows, a melodic tune with an extended outro, a powerful wall of guitars and synths.
“Infinity” is the album’s best track and here is where the story pivots, taking a mournful turn. Marsden really leans into it vocally on the second chorus. “Out on the edge / I can catch my breath / And I thought that I’d be in love with it…/ What did I expect to find / Some kind of omniscient existence?”
“Waste Away” employs an e-bow on the guitar; a slow-build to another rousing ending. The final song, “Sunshine,” breaks away from the rest of the album; a cool, spacey sound with well-placed percussion and a sea of treated guitars.
Gravity is best experienced in its entirety as are most concept projects, in order to appreciate the storyline. At a running time of forty minutes over seven tracks, this is not overly demanding. Each song stands solidly on its own but as a collection the album could have benefitted from deviations in tempo and key toreleive some monotony. Perhaps a fiery instrumental passage to break up the heaviness and sense of dread. It’s lonely in space and that mood is effectively portrayed.