Moving from New York to California and vice versa may be considered a fairly conventional migration story in the US, but when you consider that from my current location of Manchester, UK, the same distance in a rough south easterly direction would find me in Baghdad, you begin to realise the full potential of how such a migration could affect your mindset.
Former New York resident Chris Stewart AKA Black Marble, has made this transition to California and it’s a journey that is documented in his new album ‘It’s Immaterial’ (simultaneously making the label transition from Hardly Art to Ghostly International). Whereas Black Marble’s last record ‘A Different Arrangement’ felt very much like the tense ineffectual winter sun of New York, It’s Immaterial is more reflective of warmer and more relaxed climes.
The album starts, incongruously, with ‘Interdiction’, a minute of bizarre and jarring screaming synth. It’s somewhat of a palate cleanser before the 10 tracks of meticulous structured pop that follows, kind of like screaming in a pillow before giving a perfectly delivered pitch.
This eloquence is mostly achieved by Stewart’s unchanging production arsenal of analogue synths, basic drum machines and driving bass, which for the most part, are put to use to create beautifully harmonic pop tracks. ‘Woods’, the highlight of the LP, is the best example of this: Repetitive mechanical drums, offset by swirling arpeggios and a commanding 3 note bass progression, accompanied by rueful vocals concerning the guilt of emotional suffocation. There are times on the record where the commitment to the limited array of sounds and structures requires hooks to step up sonically to carry the weaker elements and when this doesn’t happen (‘It’s Conditional’) the tracks tend to lack a strong feeling of progression and impact.
However, this is largely the minority as Stewart has a great talent for making these aforementioned kind of lo fi danceable mope outs that you can imagine finding on an unmarked cassette from another decade. ‘Self Guided Tours’ and ’Iron Lung’ all capture his ability to convert cold machinery into relatable pop sensibility, and it’s the heart behind the machinery that is what sets Black Marble apart from many of it’s cold wave contemporaries.