Mike Marlin certainly has something of the artist about him. He’s clearly liberal (he’s sung disco tunes with Dwarves), he has an artistic temperament (he trashed an office) he’s elusive (he went missing for three months) and… he might actually be good at making music (he’s received the 2011 Next Big Thing Award from HMV, released his first album, went on his first tour and, spoilers, has received a favourable review here).
Mike Marlin is a man of many contradictions, and his album reflects that. It’s pleasingly retro yet unmistakably modern; the lyrics tell of a life lived in disappointing reality, yet the music seems to echo hopeful and surreal dreams; finally it is an album that a depressed twenty year old might make but somehow, an optimistic fifty-something has written.
His influences are many and just as varied. His songs recall artists as diverse as Lou Reed and The National, Human League and David Bowie, Johnny Cash and Badly Drawn Boy. Here the melancholy voice that walks the line between singing and speech, as well as the generous use of the Piano harkens to the more recent efforts of The National. But where Marlin is so subtle with his references and so experimental with his combinations of them, he retains a uniqueness that intrigues as well as a familiarity that compels.
Clearly a romantic at heart Marlin always seems to be longing for something, whether that’s a time that has long past or people he’s lost touch with, there is always the thread of nostalgia sewn into every aspect of the music. It has a hazy, ethereal quality to it that means the exact time, place or person is never quite concrete, a genius touch that means the album has the ability to relate to everyone whist never feeling impersonal.
The album was recorded in time for it to be released only a year after Marlin’s debut and in some ways it shows. Occasionally the album will betray moments where it isn’t quite as refined as it might have been were it given a little more time to mature. Certain moments of repetition that might have needed cutting or altering add a certain monotony to some songs, while infrequent lapses in the quality of the lyrics suggest a lack of time in the writing process. These are sporadic however and should not stop people appreciating such a wonderfully thoughtful album.
Man On The Ground will take you on a journey without ever dictating where the journey will go. The destination and the sights seen on the way will be completely up to you. Marlin is an enticer, he hints, he suggests, he tempts, but he never reveals. It is an entrancing album, one that puts you at peace with your past as well as in harmony with the rest of the world.