ALBUM REVIEW: Act One by Marian Hill
  • TUESDAY, JUNE 28, 2016

  • Posted by: Jacob Swindell-Sakoor

There are a ton of electronic duos that feature a female vocalist and a male producer. There's Phantogram, Purity Ring, AlunaGeorge and so many others that at times it feels like the duo thing is starting to get a bit played out. However, that's not the case for Marian Hill. Since their 2013 debut EP, Play, the duo has consistently released quality music. Just look at the whopping 30 plus tracks on their Soundcloud page if you don't believe me when I say they're awesome and have truly breathed new life into a formula that we all know. Now it's true (at least in my not so humble opinion) that Marian Hill has a near flawless release record thus far, but can the duo deliver on their first full-length?



DOWN
"Down" is a quiet opener that does more with its minimalism than an upbeat and oversaturated arrangement could achieve. However, the minimalism becomes fuller once the beat drops into unexpected drums. The drum programming on this song isn't anything spectacular but it shies away from the typical trap/electronic drop, which is very much appreciated. Thank you Marian Hill for taking a different approach on the drop of this song. Also, the chorus on this one is too much of an ear worm to ignore.

TALK TO ME
"Talk to Me" is a different brand of funk. Yes, it relies on typical bass and snaps (that is until a shaker is introduced that hits all of the right offbeats) and yes, it uses similar brass sounds that we've heard before in recent years. However, what "Talk to Me" doesn't deliver in terms of originality, it somewhat makes up for in terms of its undeniable groove. This one isn't my favorite on the album, but it's by no means a terrible song.

WILD
This one has The Neptunes' inspiration all over it. Do you hear those tongue pops and drums mixed together? Yeah, this one feels like The Neptunes went back to '03 and went indie instead. "Wild" feels like the exact moment when you don't want the party to end. It never lets up on its one track motion and that's not a bad thing. Plus, on "Wild" we get the dope lyric of "You smoked up all the weed and now you're grinding up on me." Get why it's dope? Okay kill me now (and the guy that smoked up all weed) as we move on to the next song.

BOUT YOU
I'll admit that in the first few seconds of "Bout You" I thought that I would absolutely hate it. My first thought was "oh man, here we go with another song built on mellow pads," but instead, I was surprised to find that "Bout You" contains intriguing synth and vocal manipulation as well as a simple yet effective chorus. This track is surely one of the album's sleeper hits.

TAKE YOUR TIME
"Take Your Time" is one of the low points on the album as we find Samantha singing cliche lyrics about teasing her lover. The production is somewhat interesting since the last minute and a half includes vocal pitch shifting and a solid bridge, but overall this song isn't as impactful as the rest of the tracks.

I KNOW WHY
On "I Know Why" we find Samantha tackling a ballad with effortless skill. It's interesting that on one of the most mellow songs on the album, Samantha's flow becomes the most unpredictable. We also find Jeremy using a slew of tricks to keep the listener's attention. From reversing piano chords to lead synth stabs and vocal chops that accentuate Samantha's lyrics, "I Know Why" is a great showcase of Marian Hill's talents as a duo.

GOOD
"Good" is a great breakup track. Instead of lamenting on a lost love we find Samantha confidently singing I'm feeling good for the songs chorus. Jeremy's Lloyd's production chops truly shine on "Good" because he effectively uses his signature vocal pitch shifting throughout the tracks chorus to make it feel more complex. This song shows everything great about Marian Hill and is definitely one of my favorites from the album.

THINKING
On "Thinking" Samantha is the star of the show as Jeremy lets his production take the backseat. Throughout the song, Samantha's airy vocals whisper regrets and intoxicated thoughts about her current lover. With all of this on top of the minimal, moody arrangement, "Thinking" is excellent because the duo truly sounds best when they go the simple route instead of relying on flashy production to win over listeners.

SAD SONG
"Sad Song" is the ultimate middle finger song and I love it. The usage of pizzicato strings to create the basis of the songs harmony gives "Sad Song" a quirky feel. Throughout the song Samantha continuously disses whoever pissed her off and by the end of this one its damn near impossible to not catch yourself singing along.

MISTAKEN (feat. Steve Davit)
"Mistaken" also sounds like it was inspired by The Neptunes. While it isn't as magical as "Wild", "Mistaken" is a good album cut and even has the potential to be a successful single for the duo. I'll admit that it's not my favorite track, but there's no denying that the slightly distorted brass stabs accompanied by 808s and fast moving hi-hats have proven to be a recipe for success in the past. What truly separates "Mistaken" from falling completely into this cliched formula is the bridge and the song's outro. During the bridge we're treated to a mood shift as a filtered bass line works with Samantha's cocky lyrics. The outro on this one also helps to make it more of a standout because there's a frickin' brass solo in it! Now I'm realizing that I might've lied Maybe I do like "Mistaken".

SAME THING
From the very beginning, you already know that "Same Thing" that is going to be an emotional epic. It starts with reversed synths that seamlessly transition into Samantha's picturesque lyrics of her life with her lover. Now, normally I'd make a middle school level sex joke here, but this song deserves better. What makes "Same Thing" special is its subtle arrangement which effortlessly adds and takes away elements in such a sly fashion that I had to give it about five listens before I fully soaked all of it in. "Same Thing" may be the longest song on the album, but it's the best. A beautiful arrangement that doesn't have an overabundance of elements, and uses simple yet descriptive lyrics and few cliches throughout, is a rarity in 2016. If you don't like "Same Thing" you should definitely go listen to another album.

I WANT YOU
On "I Want You" we get more of Marian Hill's bread & butter with off-kilter percussion working in tandem with funky stabs and Samantha's strong vocals singing about a lover that can't seem to stop playing games. While it's not the best song on Act One, it definitely deserves some plays simply because it's a fun song. It's admirable to see an act not take themselves too seriously with their closer.

Rating: 4/5

While Act One isn't the "perfect" album, (whatever the hell that means) it hits the mark more often than not. Both Jeremy Lloyd and Samantha Gongol bring their A-game on a freshman debut that's been three years in the making. For Marian Hill fans and newcomers alike, this is a strong album that has high replay value.
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