Although Sings, the new album by local producer Marley Carroll releases today (Tuesday, Dec. 3), it’s already had some prominent exposure. Stereogum streamed the record while Rolling Stone shared the itchy, dancey indie-pop track, “Speed Reader.” While we in Asheville are not strangers to Carroll’s genius, his prowess as a band leader and his stellar singing voice, Sings is still a surprise in its hooky-ness, its immediacy and its creatively-charged depth.
The 12-song collection leads with “Hunter,” a moody and lithe track at once both haunting and inviting. The song wends its way through textures and bubbling rhythms while Carroll sings, in his smooth tenor, of childhood and ghosts.
“Speed Reader” changes direction. Its sonic pallet hints at jazz and funk before settling into jaunty beats and lustrous vocals. While Carroll certainly has production tricks at the ready, he doesn’t bury his musicianship or his voice with distortion or vocal synthesis. So, for all the electronics employed, there’s a very human and supple thread that runs throughout Sings, its name apt for the upfront-ness of the vocals.
Despite an almost industrial intro, the grind and tumult recorded low in the mix but still loud in its impact, “Fold Your Wings” evolves into a dusky, shimmering indie-rock offering. While it has a light touch — its percussion quick and its melody frosty above layered guitars and reverb, it’s far from trite.
Among the album’s shortest pieces is the one-minute “1985,” an ethereal instrumental given ballast by snaps and sparks that crackle through the soundscape. “Prepared Piano,” another short track, sets a completely different mood. Pensive and dark, it suggests rain on windows and dark wood-paneled libraries.
“Cedars” and “R&S,” from Carroll’s 2012 EP R&S/Cedars appear on Sings. They’re two of the more abstract tracks. “Cedars” marries dance beats to guttural sounds while “R&S” crafts organic soundscapes. The two songs, though not side-by-side on Sings as they are on the EP, still serve as markers on the journey Carroll takes (possibly guides — it’s thoughtful a sonic exploration for the listener, too) with his full-length.
Meandering through kinetic instrumentals (including some effervescent synthesizer or horn hits) and glitchy rhythms, “First Thought, Best Thought” is a great example of Carroll’s more experimental work. Not that those inquiries are more- or less-worthy than his poppier songs — in fact, what’s remarkable is the way Carroll brings those two worlds together. Case in point: Singer/songwriter/model Miranda Rae guests on the radio-ready “Lossess,” a sentimental track that smartly partners Rae’s sweet voice with an orchestration of staccato percussion and sweeping, string-like melodic peals.
Another such pairing: The dense, earthy, nocturnal “Woodwork,” its vocals just an accent to the sounds of gongs, rattles and heart-beat drumming, juxtaposed with “Black Light.” The latter, with its scratchy record lead and thumping bass, unfolds into a sylphlike pathway of seductive sway and late-night incandescence.
Final track, “Look Out,” is as wistful as it is romantic. A shaker, warm piano chords and spacey atmospherics are all patchworked into a kind of poetry of longing. Here, Carroll’s vocal is run through effects. It fades in and out like a specter appearing and disappearing in a seance — a creative choice that serves the song just as well as the long fade serves the album which reaches a finish all too soon.