To be honest initially the new album Grand Reveal from Mike Marlin threw thoughts and expectations into mystified disarray, the artist instantly going against what was presumed for our first encounter with the man. It also did not take long to be deeply enamoured with his enterprise and inventive uniqueness. Marlin creates what can only be described as dark folk, though that also limits the impression of what is on offer across the striking album. The songs making up the release evoke and provoke thoughts and emotions but constantly within its startling and varied breath, there is an underlying virulent infectious lure. It is not always marked and at times no more than a whisper but at all times the barb hooked is available and potently contagious.
Born in London in the sixties, Marlin has had an eventful and dramatic life to simplify things. Losing an eye as a four year old while playing in the garden, the traumatic event and the subsequent cruelty of other children shaped he and his determined fire ahead. Something of an academic child prodigy he won a scholarship to Oxford to study Physics at seventeen. At this point he truly began his musical education constantly attending gigs and seeing the likes of Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Dr Feelgood, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Stranglers, and The Undertones to name just a small few. Playing bass in a band in Oxford came next before Marlin dropped out of education and started working in the small family broking business. The next twenty five years or so saw Marlin go through a family meltdown, start a series of technology based companies, and in 2008 decide to be a novelist Throughout he had also written songs with no intent to unveil them for public consumption but in 2009 he met musician and producer James Durrant and they recorded as a creative experiment the album Nearly Man, which Mike now describes as “the greatest hits of a man who never had any hits”. A recording by him of Staying Alive brought him to the awareness of agent Neil O’Brien and one year later from singing his first song to anyone Marlin found himself supporting The Stranglers at the Hammersmith Apollo on their 2011 UK tour. Later that year debut album Man On The Ground was recorded with producer Catherine Marks, as well as joining another Stranglers UK and European tour.
Entering the studio again last year with Marks for Grand Reveal, what has emerged is an album which reaps depths of emotions and striking ingenuity which one assumes have seeded from the journey Marlin needed to make in his life. The album starts with the first single taken from it, Skull Beneath The Skin. An ambient key shaped entrance evokes the imagination at first and though it does not light instant imagery there are shapeless ideas bred from its elegant presence. Soon a lone guitar is stroking the ear whilst Marlin brings his excellent part croon part growling vocals to bear on the lyrical narrative. Into its full stride there is certainly a Psychedelic Furs lilt to the eager stroll of the song and vocals, the refreshing sounds and passion offering a R&B swagger to the almost punkish attitude. It is an excellent start which entraps full focus before handing over to the title track, a song with a slow loping stance within an emerging sweltering air rich in emotive shadows and snarling ambience.
The impressive start continues with War To Begin and Amazing, the first a track with a repetitive persistence coring a fiery embrace which sizzles and burns upon the senses. Like many of the songs on the album its catchy temptation is irresistible with the vocals of Marlin are an appetizing graze within the melodic energy of the confrontation. The second of the pair is a dawdling tension of feeling and atmosphere with an agitated yet hypnotic pulse to add steel to the emotive charge. The beginning of the track is compelling enough but when it flares up with an electric abrasion from the guitar and heightened fire to the vocal attack, a major highlight is bred.
As it progresses The Grand Reveal increases its potent attraction with further pinnacles coming through the outstanding sinister dark folk triumph of The Murderer, the song easily the best on the album with its distorted innocence and sultry intrigue not to mention malevolence, the warm sixties tinged Forgive Me Yet with its vibrant brass shards of colourful sounds and Cajun banjo coaxing, and Doesn’t Care. The last of the three songs picks at the ear with glistening spots of sonic brilliance whilst the guitar picks its moment to precisely play the passions like a siren. It is a kaleidoscope of emotive craft and richly appetising enterprise, something which describes the whole album perfectly.
With every song offering a shadowed tale lyrically and musically to whip up imagination and pleasure with their diverse inventive aural fuels, Grand Reveal is a rare and rewarding feast which no one should pass upon.
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