Local multi-instrumentalist/DJ/producer Marley Carroll has a quiet, unassuming kind of genius. His is a sneak-attack of talent, his music cutting edge in a way that floats innocuously in the background, tickling at the subconscious with its itchy beats and warm tones. It falls into the ear easy, part dance music, part biorhythm, something that’s been around forever and yet is wholly new.
Other people know this. Carroll has already been featured on All Songs Considered. He’s shared the stage with the likes of Perfuse 73 and Blackalicious. But all that is just bio notes, and what happens on Carroll’s newest release, the pay-what-you-will download R&S/Cedars contains a potent magic far removed from press release fodder.
The three-track album begins with “R&S,” a slow climb into layered sound, its build unhurried though it pulses and undulates in thick bass and jingling percussion. The melody lives behind the vocal, a single syllable that may not even be human (a sample, a xylophone, a drop of water in a vase?). This is artful minimalism, stripped of instrumentation and players and, instead, floating bodiless in some warm space, free of gravity. Embers pop, bones shake, glass splinters and then rights itself. It holds within itself the core of a song, the point at which aloneness feels whole and time leaps its banks and saturates the landscape with its sparkle.
“Water Drumming” is more aerobic, a locomotive of rhythm and bright sound. A sluice of water underscores the track, and intricate beats (“808 kicks, toms, rim shots, snares,” reveals accompanying notes) not only move it along, all limber and effervescent, but also color it with the quick, cool shades of the natural world. That Carroll can craft such organic, meditative tracks under the auspices of electronic music and synthesizer composition shows his level of mastery and taste.
“Cedars” is as dusky as it is fresh — and by fresh I mean airy, spacious, breathing. It has a glitchy, upbeat tempo and as soon as the beat fully kicks in, it’s easy to imagine dancers slinking between colored lights. But this, like the preceding tracks, has the natural world at its heart. It’s urban and edgy, modern and self-possessed, but there’s a soft breeze and an earthy thump. “Cedars” is an inner city green space, a roof top garden, seagulls resting on the iron braces of a bridge. Running over five minutes (the longest track on the album), it’s so engaging — unfolding in chapters and revealing new facets at each turn — that it feels like it ends too soon.
Carroll not only composes interesting, timely and effortlessly stylish music, he also crafts moods and sketches worlds in which minds and ears can rest dream and wake refreshed.