Myriad voices under full moon
Forming from the mind of singer-songwriter and renowned guitarist Rob Marshall, Humanist is his first dip-of-the-toes incarnation into solo stuff. His eponymous debut full-length LP is chock full of an eclectic cast of vocalists consisting of Mark Lanegan (Queens of The Stone Age), Joel Cadbury (UNKLE), Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode), Jim Jones (Jim Jones Revue / TheeHypnotics), Carl Hancock Rux (David Holmes) and Ron Sexsmith et al. Marshall fashions such a gothic sound within this project that every track is as daunting while subtly beautiful as the next. With 15 tracks clocking in at 67 minutes of runtime, it’s a rather lengthy listen that emanates some slow-paced brooding but at the angle of several different singers from a gamut of backgrounds. It’s an amalgamation album with the only constant being Marshall’s consummate dark guitar, like the stuff being coaxed out of an abandoned chapel at midnight.
The project has several intersecting styles due to each vocalist’s particular manner, each song is sort of disconnected from the rest but connects through this dreary tone that pervades through them all. Each brings with it its own world, very distinctive and irrespective of the other. There’s this recursive club-type beat in “Kingdom” with scratchy raster-rendered oscillations that slowly materialize on the track, accompanied with nasally and erratic psychedelic guitar soloing. Track XIII, “Mortal Eyes,” features a spoken-word intro with this repetitive refrain “keep it going, keep it moving” echoing as the song progresses while manic theories are being rapidly relayed like a madman undergoing an episode, about to pop.
Each track contains Marshall’s guitar finesse, his riffs are all slow-motioned and drenched in reverb and gooey sustain to give it that far-away feel. It complements some vocalists perfectly, like in the track “English Ghosts,” wherein there’s this spy-song-like bass line that just dominates and leads the track as the impetus. It sounds like something on the prowl under the moonlight, especially coupled with the animalistic noises, it espouses a sort of wild-like undertone. This track shines. It even has this sibilant serpentine whispering that polishes it off as delightfully disturbing.
Even the percussion on some of these tracks is extraordinary. It’s just so damn assertive and has much oomph, “In My Arms” examples this. It doesn’t get redundant though, it shifts to this bug-crawling progression that’s found on “Skull” and pretty much on every other track it finds itself unrelenting and explosively curt and as a centrality in the scheme of sound.
Humanist has an experimental predilection that intersperses throughout, but it ain’t so cookie-cut. There’s this TV-static-sound that recurs on “In My Arms” and some wah-pedal feedback modulation on “Skull” and some distorted screaming on “English Ghosts.” Some tracks even sound influenced by gospel music, “In My Arms” sounds like the skeleton of a worship song you’d find at church and “Gospel” (obviously) contains this church-motif too – it commences with an excerpt from a sermon or prayer.
Overall, it’s dark and brooding and full of decorative doom. From the hopeless tone of the vocalists, it sounds sung from a weathered, cigarette-addled voice that reflects on the bittersweet nostalgia of the halcyon days. Tales of longing and sinister majesty are told through gravelly, grating voices with guitar and drum speaking in just the same spooky tongue.