The electronic scene is becoming harder and harder to break into.
Beat-making technology is as available as ever, with bedroom producers coming out of the woodwork. A greater number of aspiring electro-heads means a tougher time for artists wanting to break through the crowd.
One such man has spent upwards of five years doing just that. From humble but promising beginnings with Collarbones, a Melbourne based electronic duo to more recently performing onstage with Flume at the Opera House, this vocalist and producer has been on the upwards curve since the start of his musical career.
Marcus Whale dives into a world of synth, power, and controversial narrative, delivering a masterfully crafted debut LP.
On Friday, Marcus Whale released a full-length solo album, Inland Sea. The record combines introspection on Whale’s part with a retrospective exploration of his home, New South Wales. Conceptually imagining a queer utopia outside of post-colonial Australia, Inland Sea makes for a powerful, brooding, story-driven album with no qualms about making a statement – musically or otherwise.
Whale’s music career has been a tug of war between influences. He has delved into vocally driven pop, dance floor-ready club tunes as well as a formal education in classical composition. This ongoing battle has made for an eclectic portfolio – experimental and extraordinary in equal parts. Inland Sea is a culmination of Whale’s experience, a more cohesive soundscape than ever before.
Fans of Collarbones 2011 album Iconography will have a hard time finding familiar territory. Looped synths, clicks and other instrumentals occupying the high end are thrown away for a heavier, more menacing arrangement in general, and Whale’s vocals play a huge role in the album’s sound.
His single My Captain is a great place to start. Industrial percussion throws the track into a discordant dark zone, helped by a swollen bass progression reminiscent of a fog horn, it’s a warning of things to come. The vocals build upon the established tension, brimming with attitude.
Things are thrown into gear for the latter half of the song, after a moment’s silence Whale hammers down a grimy, crackling beat. An absolute weapon of a track, it makes for a killer introduction to Whale’s new murky but assertive sound.
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Few other tracks on the album boast the heavy temperament of My Captain, but there are sure contenders. Is He That Man again hammers out weighty percussion, this time overlaid with more melodic vocals. Vapour follows, a piece which juxtaposes more high-bpm drum arrangements with vocal vignettes, only briefly combining the two at select points of the song.
The album is marvellously researched, and Whales’ intelligence shines through lyrically. His website currently features a short piece about Inland Sea’s origins, meaning and concept, definitely worth a read if you want to enjoy the record to its fullest.
The threatening, rumbling sound Whale has created continues throughout the albums entirety. The tracks mentioned above are the harsher end of the spectrum. The opening track, named for the album, carries the LP’s features with the percussion having much less of a prevalence. Similarly, 1888 places more weight on the creepy foghorn bass lines – These decisions serve to place the vocals at the front of the mix, allowing Whale’s lyrics to come through stronger.
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Whale’s artistry is displayed openly, the listener gets a sense that this album is a laboured production, and the enormous amount of work, research and creativity required for such a creation shines. The subject matter is controversial. The glorification of the white man, Australian colonialist attitudes and the place of the queer man within it all. What Whale has accomplished with Inland Sea is utter cohesion between theme and sound. It just fits.
Inland Sea is the rare successful concept album – the consistency of its idea with its sound is an artistic achievement. Some listeners might find too much similarity within the track list but the lyrical and vocal strength throughout gives each song their own brand. Whale’s dispersion of the heavier industrial tracks with the more narrative pieces also serve to counteract such criticism. Seeing an artist like Whale find their footing is always a pleasure, and we look forward to what the talented producer can serve up in the future.