It could almost be inferred that Jesse Marchant wrote the songs for his new album over a period of months in New York City during which a lot of his world had come out from under him, in what he has described as "a general period of falling outs, absence and abuse, both of self and of what should or could have been surrounding". But in the process of finding an end to that Marchant feels to have grown. One is not left to wonder why he chose to drop the moniker of his former releases (his initials JBM) for the use of his proper full name, nor why his voice and lyrics, recorded with a mouth-to-ear intimacy, emphasizing his deepening and wearying baritone, sit loud and naked atop the widescreen backdrop of the deep synthesizer and orchestral pads and arrangements, often reminiscent of "I'm on Fire" era Springsteen. There is a sense of wanting to take responsibility and a desire to have things seen and said clearly for what they are, directly.
The production of the record reflects that same growth, balancing a new, vivid sound with matured control and rootedness. The lyrics were written later in that same year, when Marchant toured the country twice alone, on early mornings in motel rooms and for a period that he spent following, in a rented house far into the desert around 29 Palms, CA. The tone and image of this is carried throughout the record - drenched in a blinding white sunlight, in the heat, in a dream.
The songs that make up this eponymous album are menacing, dreamy worlds of their own, each one unique for each listener, instantly relatable and surprisingly therapeutic: Marchant's revelations are infectious. He is processing internal and external problems that aren't just personal but feel like signs of our times, and in doing so has created an album that feels particularly important, relevant, and powerful.
Starting with the ambitious 6-minute, lyrically dense album opener "Words Underlined," Marchant quickly establishes this tone. "Where were you," he asks, "when all of this was fucked and on it's side?"
"I am on your side," he sings in the very next song "All Your Promise", with a feeling like the dilemma has been resolved. But this is not an album of resolution; it's an album of disillusion. Even the album's poppiest song, "The Whip", contains a biting social commentary: "everybody likes to feel they're holding the whip."
But for all its philosophical, world-weary tendencies, the album is really based in themes of lost love and failed relationships. Not in a conventional sense, but in the decidedly 21st century conundrum of looking for love in the age of disconnection. Marchant's disillusionment is rooted in this disconnection, and ironically, it exists in opposition to his uncanny ability to articulate himself through music and, in turn, connect with listeners. But when focused on an individual, these theoretical ideas become painful realities.
Later in "The Whip" he sings, "I felt the sun...then I lost you...and I never got it back." In "Every Eye Open," he continues, "I've been living in lies too... and the secret sin that I've loved you for more than a little while." And in "Stay On Your Knees," "love was real, but the meaning was wrong."
Whether at odds with the outside world or the world within him, the battles Marchant fights on this record are such that any intuitive, conscientious listener will relate. Perhaps the entire notion is contained in a single couplet from "Snow Chicago," that feels at once exhausted and revelatory: "I just wanna feel at ease / And that for once I do belong."