Rhys Marsh: The Black Sun Shining
Autumnsongs Records

Trondheim, Norway-based Rhys Marsh is and has been involved in a heady number of group projects: the UK-born singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist first surfaced in 1997 as part of Mandala (his first band) and currently appears in Kaukasus (alongside Ketil Vestrum Einarsen and Mattias Olsson) and leads The Autumn Ghost, a sprawling ‘multi-national orchestra' that includes members of Jaga Jazzist, Anekdoten, Wobbler, White Willow, Pelbo, and others. It doesn't stop there, with Marsh also having contributed to albums by acts such as The Opium Cartel and When Mary.

But it's Marsh's solo releases that form a conduit for arguably his most personal expression. The first such foray, a five-song EP called Suspended In A Weightless Wind and featuring covers of Nick Drake, King Crimson, Scott Walker, Family, & Crosby, Stills & Nash, appeared in 2013, which Marsh followed a year later with his first formal solo album Sentiment. That brings us finally to his second full-length, a forty-two-minute song-cycle he wrote and recorded at his Trondheim recording studio. Indexed as seven distinct songs, The Black Sun Shining plays like a single, multi-scene composition, an impression reinforced by the presence of bridges connecting one song to the next.

It's not unusual to see Marsh's name show up in various prog-related contexts, and truth be told prog is present as an undercurrent on the album. Yet by prog standards the material is restrained, and the arrangements aren't weighed down by overembellishment. That it is so can be explained in part by the production approach: a seven-day recording schedule that ruled out the over-deliberation and second-guessing that can creep in when recording sessions stretch out interminably. Instead, Marsh went for complete live takes and focused on capturing the emotion of the song rather than obsessing over every note. Don't get the wrong idea: The Black Sun Shining isn't raw or sloppy, but it does feel spontaneous, even after factoring in the fact that Marsh produced all the sounds himself (keyboards, guitars, drums, percussion, woodwinds, zither, and synthesizers are among the instruments listed).

If forced to do so, one might characterize the material as dark, vocal-based electronic-pop that conceivably would appeal to fans of both Depeche Mode and prog, especially those with an appetite for concise song-styled productions as opposed to complex, long-form epics. The album ranges between aggressive fare (“I Hear, I Know,” “One Step Inwards,” “Soothe the Fear”) and ballads (“Find Another Way,” “In the Summer Light”), the latter of which grant his appealing singing voice prominence. Certain tracks stand out as particularly memorable, among them “Wondering Stars,” a melodically potent exercise distinguished by haunting verses; the plodding “Find Another Way” is memorable also, in this case for an arrangement rich in pedal steel guitar and synthesizer. Even if one isn't a fan of Depeche Mode and prog, it's easy to imagine The Black Sun Shining appealing to a broad base of electronic-pop listeners.

January 2016