Marley Carroll

Sings

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Although its title may suggest otherwise, North Carolinian electronic producer Marley Carroll's sophomore LP, Sings, is not entirely a vocal album, nor is it his debut as a singer. On his first album, 2007's Melanaster, Carroll introduced an enticing world of pensive, downbeat electronica, swirling shoegaze, and even dark acoustic pop, emerging as a versatile and capable young artist with an independent spirit. And yes, he also sang. The subsequent years found him quietly developing his approach, trying out elements of glitch and dubstep over a series of singles and EPs but always maintaining the melancholic patina that seems to constitute his muse. Like Melanaster, Sings was conceived and produced in Carroll's Asheville, North Carolina home studio and represents a logical progression to a more refined sound. Of the album's 12 tracks, the songs featuring vocals are largely placed at the top with only two vocal pieces in the latter half. It's an unusual choice and does tend to make Sings seem somewhat front-loaded with the more single-oriented material. But, sequencing aside, there is quality throughout. Opening with the propulsive and willowy single "The Hunter," Sings then gets moving quickly with the riff-heavy dancefloor number "Speed Reader," which provides the album's most uptempo moments. Carroll sings with a spacious and wide-eyed earnestness that serves these tracks well but at times recalls some of the more precious moments of Postal Service-era Ben Gibbard. "Lossless," an early highlight, features guest vocalist Miranda Rae sighing dreamily over a bed of shimmering chimes and buzzing percussion like some technorganic wood nymph. Perhaps it's part of Carroll's Appalachian upbringing, but the forest is both a sonic and lyrical theme that exists throughout the album. You can hear a sort of deep-woods hush to the music, even when the tempos pick up. There's the aptly named "Cedars," which serves as a sort of mid-album interlude, followed by the stunning "First Thought, Best Thought," which brushes along the shadowy canopy floor with its lush samples and rich, melodic synth leads. It's as if Autechre were thawed out and turned to snowmelt underneath the great American pines. "Woodwork" begins with a panoply of warm, skittering rhythms over a distant Tibetan sample of bells and chants, eventually evening out into a steady mountain cat run. This tone of warm, woody electronica is an atmosphere that Carroll employs to great effect, creating moments of sheer beauty and calm tranquility.

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