Our Take: Less Is More in Marian Hill’s “ACT ONE”

Marian Hill / courtesy of the artist
Marian Hill / courtesy of the artist

Ethan's Take

RIYL: Phantogram, Purity Ring, Trombone Shorty, Jack Garratt, AlunaGeorge

In an era where the mainstream scene is becoming more and more heavily dominated by electronic music, it is assumed that the records with more extravagant production that boast innovative technological prowess are superior. Even Justin Bieber has paired up with the electronic world’s musical titans, Skrillex and Diplo, to produce his mega-hit “Sorry” to accompany the rest of his Purpose album, chock-full of dance anthems that flaunt all of the latest bells and whistles.

ACT ONE - Marian Hill
ACT ONE – Marian Hill

Philadelphia duo Marian Hill tranquilize the chaos and bring to life a whole new electronic beast with their unique minimalism. Made up of vocalist Samantha Gongol and production artist Jeremy Lloyd, the duo hones in on a unique sound that combines Gongol’s bluesy jazz vocals, dark, minimal production by Lloyd, and some improvised saxophone melodies courtesy of jazz musician Steve Davit.

In their debut release, Act One (released June 24, 2016 via Republic Records/Photo Finish Records), Marian Hill polish their signature sound with a prowess that solidifies their here-to-stay position in the electronic world as a refreshing new set of talent.

Down” opens the album, boasting nothing more than a simple piano melody and unaltered vocals. But rest assured, before even a minute is up, fans of the distorted bubbly vocal foreplay that Marian Hill has branded as their own will find themselves satisfied at their minimalistic approach to a beat drop. “Talk To Me” follows suit and incorporates a faster rhythm, some pops and snaps and various horn tricks.

Watch: “Down” – Marian Hill

Where the duo truly boasts its ingenuity is in the next track, “Wild,” where they seem to warp various a cappella techniques, including sounds produced by the mouth and hands. It’s incredible how such craftsmanship in the studio on just a few simple audio tracks can create a more upbeat and pop-driven tune that coincides with its title. It’s consistent and catchy and surely one of the strongest tracks on the album.

Bout You” utilizes more colorful synths and is a more personal song, but is not a personal favorite of mine. While the following track, “Take Your Time,” does stay true to the nature of Marian Hill’s music as a seductive and flirtatious song, it just doesn’t seem to live up to the reputation of the rest of their cohesive and catchy hits that the duo has so carefully fostered.

Marian Hill / courtesy of the artist
Marian Hill / courtesy of the artist

Just when listeners fear that the album is losing steam, “I Know Why” offers some redemption. It’s a ballad, but it does an incredible job of focusing on both the individual talents of Gongol and Lloyd, while also capitalizing on their musical chemistry with each other. The effectiveness of the next track, “Good,” is written in the title. It’s a very simple song at its core, but Lloyd’s arrangement adds new colors to the otherwise undersaturated tune.

Thinking” is a more haunting song. Again, their blend of simple production and breathy vocals combine so naturally to create a sense of intoxication in the listener, and it’s a testament to their talent. “Sad Song” is more rhythmically eccentric, but it works. It’s angry and it’s unapologetic and a breath of fresh air to the more mellow tracks before it. “Mistaken” is another strong track, integrating dark horn elements and the most confidence we’ve heard yet from Gongol as a vocalist in this album.

Listen: “Mistaken” – Marian Hill

Same Thing” is a standout as the most emotionally vulnerable track on the album. At 5:28, it’s definitely a long song and isn’t intended for those looking for the provocative and effervescently-produced hit on the album. However, there’s no denying the raw musical talent in this electronic duo, and it is definitely worth the listen. “I Want You” closes the album, and it’s my personal favorite. It’s fun and flirtatious and includes all of the unorthodox and quirky elements that day-one fans of the duo have come to know and love.

What makes ACT ONE such a success is all of its subtleties. While it may not have as large a handful of hits than that of their previous EP Sway (released February 2015 via Republic/Photo Finish), it solidifies the duo’s stake in the electronic gold mine. Gongol and Lloyd have found their niche as artists who don’t need to the volume turned all the way up in order to be heard. Amongst all of the noise, the heavy bass, the trap arrangements, and the beat drops, there is a gentle voice calling out, infectious and crystal clear, that refuses to be brushed aside. And that is the voice of Marian Hill.

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ACT ONE - Marian Hill
ACT ONE – Marian Hill

:: Marian Hill Fall 2016 Headline Tour ::

9/9  Providence, RI @ The Met Café
9/10  Washington, D.C. @ 9:30 Club
9/11  Charlottesville, VA @ Jefferson Theater
9/13  Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West @ King Plow Arts Center
9/14  Orlando, FL @ The Social
9/16  Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
9/17  Austin, TX @ The Parish
9/18  Dallas, TX @ Club Dada
9/20  Phoenix, AZ @ The Crescent Ballroom
9/21   Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre
9/22  Santa Ana, CA @ The Observatory
9/27  Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
9/28  Seattle, WA @ Showbox Theatre
9/30  Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
10/1  Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
10/2  Boulder, CO @ Fox Theatre
10/4  St. Louis, MO @ The Ready Room
10/5  Milwaukee, WI @ Turner Hall Ballroom
10/6  Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
10/9  Columbus, OH @ The A&R Music Bar
10/11  Boston, MA @ Royale Boston
10/12  New York, NY @ Webster Hall
10/14  Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer

Watch: “I Want You” – Marian Hill

cover photo courtesy of the artist

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