In his typically understated way, London based artist Archy Marshall quietly brought in the closing month 2015 with the release of multimedia project, A New Place 2 Drown – a collaborative effort with brother Jack. Interweaving film, art and poetry (in the form of a book) and the album, the pair aimed to construct a portrait of their beloved home city of London through a distinctly youthful perspective. The short film, easily accessible via the Internet is a rough and intimate look into the brother’s lives, characterised by jagged editing and unstable, simple animated illustrations juxtaposing introspective poetry and candid speech. However, considering the impressive stamp Marshall put on the London music scene with his 2013 debut, the new album was the most eagerly anticipated – as well as elusive – part of the project.
“Any God of Yours” sweeps in as the first track of the album, a slow, heavy beat emerging through the fog of feedback that gradually builds with a minimalist selection of muffled, synthetic instrumentation and yet is kept earthy with brief notes of Marshall’s voice. It is impossible not to become immersed in the laboured yet resolute onward march of the album as the first track slides into “Swell”, where the marching beat is matched by something a little more urgent. As Marshall sings the first line of the album, “Well I might have found/ A new place to drown/ My sorrows and everything else”, in his distinctive growl, the darker themes begin to surface. “Arise Dear Brother” continues along a similar dawdling trajectory, the snarling quality of Marshall’s voice moving alarmingly between urgent and careless; often at odds with the chaotic track that echoes underneath. The track ends with the line “you can complain but I like to keep discrete” reverberating until it is consumed completely by the dying final notes, reflecting Marshall’s reclusive approach to his position as one of the brightest young musical talents London offers.
Marshall’s voice bridges song and speech, highlighting the surprisingly tender poetic lyrics
The fourth track, “Ammi Ammi”, a collaboration with fellow Londoner Jamie Isaac, is where the album seems to find it’s momentum, brought in by a satisfying bass rift after 40 seconds of quietly gathering introduction, muddled in with unexpected sound bites. The images of a dysfunctional yet resoundingly familiar adolescence that filled 6 Feet Below the Moon are carried through onto A New Place 2 Drown, where they fit, despite a markedly different musical sound, with ease. Marshall’s voice bridges song and speech, highlighting the surprisingly tender poetic lyrics, “Lonely, I slip into a pool of gold/ She takes my hand and doesn’t let go/ I feel it deep within my soul/ A whisper resonates my bones”. It is here that the maturity of this album becomes clear, remarkable not just in the quiet beauty of the lyrics but also in the way Marshall presents them unashamed, his words not buried under rambling chord sequences as they were in his first album offering, but instead reinstated as the focus.
The dark mood persists in the latter half of the album, with “The Sea Liner MK1” settling into a perhaps more hip-hop influenced tone, and though Marshall slips from singing into a drawling rap, the sense of apathy that has come to characterise his vocals is never lost. The last tracks of his album appear to mark a disintegration of sorts, the motifs that held the album together in earlier songs are repeated but entangled with feedback effects and echoed mutterings, sometimes descending into a warped silence before resurfacing. None of the tracks on the album could really be said to be particularly focused, but the sense of disorientation is strongest in it’s later stages, almost to the point of becoming incomprehensible and perhaps increasingly irrelevant to the listener. However, Marshall recovers his sense of intention in the final track, “Thames Water”, recapturing the brilliancy of his lyrics, dominated by a muted aggression. This, combined with a more defined musical sound, provides a satisfying conclusion to an album that otherwise had the potential to fade out into obscurity before it had the opportunity to distinguish itself.
In the three years since his debut, Marshall has lost the monikers he obscured himself behind in earlier releases, lost the frantic guitars, and perhaps lost the adolescent urgency that underlined Six Feet Below the Moon. But in doing so he has reinvented himself as a voice of the capital, gathering his listeners up and sweeping them away as though he were (as the title of his final track) “Thames Water”. A New Place 2 Drown does not always make for the most melodic or even inherently enjoyable listening experience, the muffled beats and incoherent speech sometimes slipping towards something like monotony. But what it lacks in brightness it makes up for in brilliancy, and even that same monotony becomes a realisation of the relentless rhythms of the city.