Marooned

Marooned

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Detroit is the birthplace of modern electronic dance music and a nexus at which a plethora of electronic styles had converged by the end of the 20th century and, in many ways, Marooned is the ideal embodiment of that cultural legacy and convergence. The brainchild and baby of composer, producer, programmer, and keyboardist John Briggs, Marooned is completed by vocalist Kim Ballard, and on its debut effort the duo melds a wide range of musical genres into a delicious and beguiling concoction. Marooned by and large renders genre determinations moot. It contains strains of world music, downbeat acid jazz, techno, and cool trip-hop, among others, and yet they are all alchemized into a single seductive ambience that is fluid and molten even as it is mechanical and piercing. The album is unmistakably urban and crepuscular, and it skirts along the edge between the deepest, most narcotic part of night and the first few gauzy hints of sunlight in the morning. "Love Butterfly," "Can You Change?," and "And You Know" would rightfully qualify as progressive R&B or soul were it not for the hyper-formatted nature of urban radio, with Ballard's transfixing vocals weaving amid the staccato hip-hop and soft-core jungle rhythms. "Indigenous People," on the other hand, is a contrast of textures and cultural ingredients. A synthesizer plays the thick and impenetrable ambient bassline while Middle Eastern percussive elements skitter over it. The mellifluous vocals polish off the song, and the results sound liquid, but also agitated and esoteric. The gloriously haunting "Emotional Baggage," though, is the album's nucleus. Recalling the spiritual cadences of Enigma via manipulated samples of Ballard's voice, the instrumental track is a glacial conversation among improvisational guitar scrapings, cryptic shortwave radio transmissions, and vibelike keyboard doodles. Its ominous depth, however, comes not from the borrowed profundity of religion but from bottomless dub bass and insistent brushwork mimicking rickety subway rails. In comparison to the steely and complex perfection of that track as well as near equals like "Is It Love?" and the pure soundscape of "Blue," some moments on the album come across as vaguely ill-fitting or less than fully formed. It doesn't always sound as if the sonic ambitions set forth by Briggs entirely coalesce throughout Marooned (although you get the feeling that they will in the future), but it is always an alluring piece of music, an album so dulcet and exotic that it makes the early morning chillout seem like the reason night was invented in the first place.

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