Black Marble makes a melancholic return

The L.A. implant wears his heart on his sleeve with “It’s Immaterial.”

Brooks Ginnan, Writer

There lies a certain beauty in music that attaches itself to the core fibers of one’s life, a daily soundtrack for situations both monumental and mundane. Be it chord progressions that resonate a comforting form of nostalgia or lyrics that know just how to well up a storm of tears, there is something to be said about emotionally compelling bodies of work.

warm and present collection

Black Marble, the synthesizer-driven project of Chris Stewart, accomplishes exactly this with “It’s Immaterial.” If 2012’s “A Different Arrangement” felt distant and cold, “It’s Immaterial” strikes as a warmer and more present collection. The instrumentation still operates within a blanket of intricately programmed synthesizers and drum machines, but there is more bass and even small bits of guitar strewn throughout.

“It’s Immaterial” first pushes away on the vapid and noise-ridden “Interdiction,” segueing into the haunting and melancholic single “Iron Lung.” Propelled largely by a steady bassline and heavenly pads, a bit of bittersweet weariness is exuded in Stewart’s mournful vocal delivery. The track brings to mind the little worries that creep into one’s head while lying in bed at night, unable to sleep, wrapped in insignificant little worries likely to dissipate by morning.

Self Guided Tours” also cuts through with a sprawling, dizzying introduction that leads into one of Stewart’s most memorable vocal takes, still hidden behind reverb but the one of a small room, not a cathedral. The lyrics regretfully utter, “There’s always a catch, there’s always a place to go,” in an moment weighed down with exhausted emotional toil.

Ironically enough, a handful of tracks feel like pop songs in comparison. Brighter chord progressions fill the duration, while “Golden Heart” harnesses the pop-associated hand clap and the least cheesy usage of synth brass ever on record. “Frisk” feels like a breezy late night car ride down Interstate 5 set to tape, not leaving out a classically new wave bass part, while album closer “Collene” glistens in synthetic neon hues that blur the lines between the ‘80s and present day.

heart and soul within the mechanical

Perhaps it is no surprise when Black Marble took the stage of The Echoplex — to a sold-out crowd, at that — Stewart seemed casual, collected and assured. It felt much more like the atmosphere of playing a house show rather than a packed club, even though security had to break up a scuffle.

Music with such a personal touch as Stewart’s begs for heartfelt connection, and the 900-plus people in attendance would not have agreed more, pushing their way up to the stage to belt out lyrics a normal fan would not have taken the time to decipher from beneath the wall of reverberation on recordings.

Remarkably, “It’s Immaterial” succeeds in giving a heart and soul to the mechanical and brooding feelings often associated with other minimal synth and coldwave bands, but perhaps it was only the instruments at play that placed Black Marble there in the first place. Genre and similar technicalities are only immaterial, after all. Authentic emotion, on the other hand, will never be.

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