Republic Records · May 11, 2018
Pop duo Marian Hill’s new album Unusual only barely lives up to its name with a sound that becomes stale and repetitive after a few songs.
A follow up to their 2016 album Act One, whose smash hit ‘Down’ showed up everywhere from indie tastemaker playlists to Apple commercials, this new album is more of the same. While it seems more focused around a central theme, it’s still made up of minimalist staccato beats with some sultry vocals mixed in on top. The self-proclaimed goal was to sound seductive and intriguing – and that was definitely achieved – but after the tension builds over the first few tracks, it fizzles out without release or, for lack of a better word, climax. There is some reward in the song ‘Wish You Would,’ which has potential to become the new ‘Down’ thanks to a more uptempo beat and a solid vocal part that provides a catchy hook and some good verses. Off the whole album, this is the song that’ll get stuck in my head, and I’ll end up coming back to again and again.
Starting from the top, ‘Subtle Thing’ is a good intro track that, like the intro paragraph of any good essay, gets the audience’s attention and sets the mood for the rest of the piece. I compare this album to an essay because listening through felt like reading one: it had its good points here and there, but for the most part, it was a little hard to get through and it felt like they were struggling to make the length requirement.
There are a couple of more interesting tracks towards the end of the album; ‘No Hesitation’ amps up the flirting of the album with demanding some romantic action while refusing to initiate anything. The song is catchy, with a hook that sounds like a very direct reference to Hoodie Allens’ ‘No Interruption.’ The next track, ‘Listening’ is all about the reward of listening to your lover, really just some intense musical foreplay. Album closer ‘Go Quietly’ has some interesting musical experimentation, as it doesn’t follow a standard melody with a hook that gets drilled into your head. Instead, it sounds more like relaxed, atmospheric EDM that provides real satisfaction. The vocals are sampled in twisting and turning arpeggiations in between some great sung vocals in the chorus. The sharp staccato samples are contrasted by sweeping synths for a nice warm fuzzy feeling, and in the context of the theme of the album, I guess this would be the cool ‘Down’ song.
Overall, Marian Hill’s Unusual is exactly what is to be expected, no more and no less. They stuck to their idea and ended up sounding a little one note at times, playing it safe. If you liked Marian Hill before, you’ll probably still like this album, but if you’re looking for something new to check out, this might take a little effort to get into. Pass the Aux seemed to sum it up best with their review title, “Marian Hill’s ‘Unusual’ can be your entire bedroom playlist.” So feel free to give that a try and let us here at WRBB know how it worked out.