Distinct but underwhelming
Delivering music that falls on the electronic spectrum with distinct R&B leanings, Marian Hill’s album Unusual offers ten tracks of this unique sound. Producer Jeremy Lloyd and vocalist Samantha Gongol play to their strengths and focus on stripped down R&B beats and emphasize Gongol’s sultry vocals and actual lyrical content.
For the most part, Unusual hits its marks. The tunes are seductive, but the album fails to deliver enough remarkable songs over its minimal ten track length. They bring a level of artistry to the genre, and there is an interesting jazz influence (especially on the tracks featuring saxophonist Steve Davit) but Unusual probably won’t be the album that cements their stardom.
Despite having their own sound, there is a definite repetitive quality throughout that album that makes it more suitable for commercial placement or as background music rather than deserving of full attention. The opening track, “Subtle Thing,” is a strong introduction but sounds a little too similar to their previous hit “Down.” The following track “Differently” features relatable lyrics about comparing yourself to a former flame’s new love. A couple of tracks later, “Wish You Would” is a track that brings back memories of peak ’90s R&B hits. The song plays with a call and response (from Gongol to Gongol) and a chorus that plays a little cheesy. The next song, “Don’t Do It,” has Gongol pushing her voice to a falsetto level of which she is capable, but it sounds unnecessary and even uncomfortable in this context.
The standout track of the album comes towards the end with “Sideways.” Ditching the trap beats for an electronic piano, Gongol relaxes her voice and delivers the smoothest performance of the album. While it strays from their signature style, “Sideways” is far and away the most pleasant track. “No Hesitation” goes back to their formula, but is more measured and deliberate than most of the other tracks, to its benefit. They close out the album with “Go Quietly,” a strong ending for the album. “Go Quietly” plays like a more classic EDM track, building to a distinct drop while still showcasing their strengths which is sure to secure it a long-term spot on live setlists.
Unusual is an album that adequately demonstrates the signature sound of Marian Hill. They certainly have a unique style that serves to refresh the genres of electronic and R&B, but the album fails to make a lasting impression. Overall, the album has enough strength to earn them their place in the genre and definite interest in their future releases but doesn’t place them at the top of any lists just yet.