Marsalis strikes a balance between darkness and light on 2016 EP
Life isn’t always rosy, and Seattle’s brooding rock/soul group Marsalis keeps it honest on their debut 2016 EP that traverses the challenges and hardships people face in their day-to-day lives.
An unofficial title for the five-track EP could easily be “Hope.” It’s the title of the third song, and also a recurring theme—mentioned in three songs.
On opening track, “Where I Am,” which sounds like a love letter to Coldplay’s seminal hit, “Yellow,” the narrative centers on an intimate relationship facing a familiar crisis. Lead vocalist Dennis Zender sings: “It’s too late/maybe this has gotten out of hand/you fold it up we’ll force it all, force it out our eyes/but it’s too much, baby we have seen this place before/it’s knotted up it’s pain we fight/pain we’re fighting out.
Later in the song, Zender sings: We’ll take it slow but hold onto, hold onto our hope/we’ll make it, baby there’s a brightness in your eyes.
In “Feel Something,” which follows, the listener revisits the crumbling relationship, and hope is at the center of it all: I left you there all alone/this time, I promise I’ll never leave/I promise I’ll make it right/and I’ll hold out for hope/for a chance at redemption.
“Hope,” the third song, which concludes the “hope” trilogy, is resolute in its message, declaring: This is your life, don’t let it go/fictions eclipsed, make it your own/just stay alive/hold true/hold true. The song instantly becomes an anthem for today’s generation of wayward youth, who walk aimlessly, seeking guidance and contemplating what to do with their life.
“Until the End” is a song about not giving up, and closing track, “Blame It On Me,” is where the narrator loses all hope, sheds his past, and walks away: It’s too late/the damage is done and Memories made, undone/when I’m left with none/I’m finally free.
Marsalis has a knack for building arrangements that are multi-layered and emotionally rich. Zender’s vocals meld well with the stadium-sized power chords—a singular and distinct instrument—enrapturing listeners and undeniable in its arresting ability to provoke reflection.
Zender has performed and crafted music since the age of 13. The co-founder and frontman of Seattle rock band Truce says this about his songwriting acumen: “I hope to bring about a sense of honesty in my music. Never holding back and constantly reexamining my approach to the art of writing, is fundamental.”
While Zender knows how to create lyrics and melody that are impactful, he also knows how to assemble a stellar group of musicians to bring his songs to life. Bassist Adam Bishop (formerly of band Go Ahead) was a musical partner with Zender in Truce. Bishop brought in Theresa Cadondon to play piano, keys and synths, and also, Phil Gardner, on drums.
Bishop and Gardner form a tight unit, helping to lay the foundation on each track. But Marsalis’s secret weapon is, in fact, Cadondon’s masterful performance. It’s her work that creates an unworldly cinematic landscape. Indeed, the standout track on the EP, “Blame It On Me,” is elevated by Cadondon’s classical chamber pop intro and is the counterpoint throughout to Zender’s ominous vocal.
Marsalis will perform an EP release party on Saturday, May 21, at The Roxy in downtown Vancouver, B.C. The group plans to enter the studio in June to start recording songs for a full-length album.