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Marc Carlton - Voices Through Endless Walls CD (album) cover

VOICES THROUGH ENDLESS WALLS

Marc Carlton

 

Crossover Prog

5.00 | 1 ratings

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simbelmyne
5 stars In the 20 years since Voices Through Endless Walls, Marc Carlton's work has grown more technologically accomplished, and listeners to more recent offerings will be familiar with a very different sound, and a more lush and varied instrumentation. This is far more stripped back, you will hear more extended acoustic guitar parts, you WILL hear tape hiss.

However, going back two decades is far from a disappointment - the comparison actually makes the raw ambition of this early work all the more clear.

The album has an unforgiving but rewarding format of four twenty-plus minute pieces, each of which is a longform reflection, offering space to explore something intensely personal, idiosyncratic and yet powerfully relatable. Each piece is allowed to breathe and develop and the result is something both varied in scope and richly detailed.

'Our Cries Made Clear' is by far the most accessible track on the album, and right from my first listen the best part of two decades ago it was a key that helped me to see the thinking behind Carlton's music. More than that, it opened my eyes to just how much instrumental music can actually say. Opening with an organ sound that builds and layers until it is replaced by introspective piano and guitar, each new part builds on the ideas of the last and the pacing feels gentle and natural, clearly telling a story. The main guitar theme starting from eight minutes in sets out its initially tentative thesis, an idea that is then nurtured, growing in enthusiasm and joy until something seems to go awry. This is responded to by a slightly manic, increasingly frantic distorted guitar, leaving a real gut punch when it eventually breaks down. It is a journey through inspiration, hope, attempted understanding and grief. Through this Carlton explores what it is to be a mind in contact with an external world that can't always understand you, with all the risks, joys and disappointments this entails. The hairs still stand up on the back of my neck every time I hear the percussion come in, grounding and cocooning the return of the now familiar main guitar theme as it reasserts and consolidates itself, indeed making its cry clear in the most touching way. The rest of the track is recovery, strengthening. We can take joy in what we are, even if this is not shared by others.

The opening of 'The Fragile Shade' in comparison feels more atmospheric than narrative. Carlton creates a haunting aural landscape of guitars that feels like a peaceful but unstable reprieve after the tribulations of 'Our Cries...' and takes his time developing it. Ideas form and come together in the interplay of guitar sounds but swim in and out of focus like turning a kaleidoscope and in these shifting sands Carlton seems to be saying that solace isn't always restful or easy. When one idea does eventually take centre stage just before nine minutes it is sad and beautiful before shifting into a calm meditation on itself in the last five minutes, a story told by intricate acoustic guitar rising and falling, at times with the regularity of breath but always developing and changing.

And then... 'Tree of Poisons'. Oh man. This is an abrupt shift, with everything from the very first note heralding the sheer dread that is to come. Do you want to hear the soundtrack to an anxiety attack? You can't go far wrong with this. The opening section is very disorienting, with hazy, distorted guitar, bits of weird synths that sound like they're backwards, and loads of discordant abstract stuff going on. After four minutes the chaos abruptly stops - for a while - to be replaced with very orderly and minimal guitar, a contrast which only adds to the tension, like being frozen in a moment of dread. It gradually becomes softer and more mournful but reasserts itself several more times before being subsumed. It's hard to adequately describe the sheer power and character of the swirling wall of distorted sounds in the middle section. It's pure focused dread and self doubt and horror that chews you up and shreds your soul. It's definitely a taste that takes a while to acquire, think Fripp's Gates of Paradise. Took me the longest time to feel the love for this one but now I feel it deeply and it has firmly become one of the highlights of the album for me. Eventually the chaos does calm, and there is a more traditionally melodic section of recovery, though right at the end that swirl of distortion starts to rise again, as if to signal that this is one battle that's never really over.

'Resonance' starts with a guitar melody that quickly gathers pace and confidence, interspersing moments of joy with moments of reflection. There is a real sense of motion with the music signalling its own breakdown before recovering over and over. Carlton deftly reminds us that such motion brings both the development of new ideas, and inevitably, reflection and loss. Later, an intricate and discomforting piano section builds the sense of halting motion and reflection with alternating speed and silence, and sound allowed to build up then rapidly curtailed. Like reaching out for something but never quite touching it, it speaks of the never ending tension of restraint and freedom and as a result is tinged with sadness. Before you know it, the final guitar section wraps up the track and the album and the almost 90 minute journey is over.

Throughout Voices Through Endless Walls, Carlton stretched the tools he had to take us on four very different musical explorations. By turns delicately thoughtful, moving and downright intense, what shines through each of the four corners of the album is the intricacy and intimacy with which Carlton explores all of his ideas. This sense is palpable and it doesn't let you go, asking you to listen again, to ponder more. After years and years of listening Voices is still unfolding itself to me and that speaks to how much of value is in here and how much it deserves to be heard.

simbelmyne | 5/5 |

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