MISSISSIPPI STUDIOS PRESENTS THE HAUNTING AND REVEALING SONGWRITER WITH A NEW LP, 'ILLUSION OF LOVE'
$10 advance / $12 day of show
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.”
Who is Howard Ivans? A stylized frequency? A flutter of heartbeats? An outline of emotion? Another gambler waiting for that strike of lightning playing the zero-sum game of love? Or is he the blurry figure at the edge of frame? “Someone that likes being in the dark room and dark stages, where the sound is brighter than the face.” A man away from himself. Keep breaking it down boy. On a path to obsession, his head full of fury and dreams, Howard Ivans is high-stepping through the rolling sea of time.
Ivan Howard has encountered this character before. Surely he was an uncredited guest when the Rosebuds recorded a song-by-song cover of Sade’s Love Deluxe. And when Prince showed up at a Gayngs show and ripped a solo offstage on his unplugged purple Strat, Ivan Howard and Howard Ivans watched him in disbelief, flickering back and forth in that sublime, surreal moment. But the first proper appearance was on a 45 for Spacebomb Records, “Red Face Boy b/w Pillows”; then the man could really breathe, stretch out and hear his own voice, see his hands in the light. There is a strange duality between the unassuming country boy who grew up barefoot on a tobacco farm in North Carolina and the neo-soul entertainer crooning over staccato Billie Jean guitar lines, but it’s not a reflection, more a yin and yang situation, interlocking bodies of shadow, imagination, and abstracted history. The tension is fascinating. No past or future, only a presence.
Beautiful Tired Bodies is Howard Ivans’ opus – is it the magnum or a sweet 750 ml? Only time will tell. Either way, it’s pure magic, a soft funk tone poem to lost identity, the grip of love, and trying to live in the present as time rushes under the bridge. Feelings at the edge of feeling, a sound that Ivan Howard dreams about. What a sound to dream about, lush, muscular, brooding, rising and falling with the lungs of live musicians, crystalline guitars, enchanting string arrangements—a real show. Alongside the team of Spacebomb co-producers Cameron Ralston and Trey Pollard, and a first call cast of Richmond, Virginia’s finest musicians, Howard Ivans has signed his name to a smooth statement of purpose. And whoever he is, he’s playing an idiosyncratic R&B game with passionate skill.