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Music Review: Adam Marsland – Go West

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I get nervous on behalf of any artist who decides to bring out a double album, especially in these download and shuffle days. It is this way of listening that often threatens to reduce these sprawling, ambitious epics to throwaway three minute soundbites.

What this modern day approach often misses is the sense of journey, scale, purpose, and ambition that many such works possess. A fine example of the 'whole' being worth far more than a downloaded part is Adam Marsland’s ambitious double release Go West.

Listen to it for the first time and you are instantly aware of a range of satisfying styles amid a clear musical pedigree. Listen a little further and you become aware of something altogether deeper contained within.

This is an album that was written on the back of tragedy, loss, and problems that have come together to make the last year a personal nightmare for the artist himself. As a result, the album, as the aforementioned 'whole', represents a wide ranging journey of exploration through the extremes of hope and despair. 

To explain his thinking behind such brave creativeness he tells us on the promotional material that, “albums to me are like children, and you’re responsible for them. Some grow up to be mechanics and you don’t have to worry about them. Others are special, and you have to send them to medical school. Go West is one of those.”

The past year has been frankly awful for Adam Marsland. His brother suddenly passed away. In another tragic incident, his sister-in-law was murdered. On top of that he struggled with an illness that threatened his hearing, his house was broken into, and most of his recording equipment was stolen including his beloved Telecaster, desktop, synth, and other valuable equipment.

Such events would have seen most of us retreating from life to hopefully gather enough strength to carry on. Instead, Adam threw himself into the writing process and the result is an epic double release that really is one of those special children he refers to. 

“It’s roughly about being a young adult gradually finding out life isn’t what you thought it was and neither are you.” This is a place in life that many of us have found ourselves at some point along the way, and one that some of us may even be reliving through the experiences and struggles of our own children.

This is an album that explores that journey of finding out what you really are as an individual whilst journeying out on your own into this big challenging world we live in. This is best explained again by Adam, who says, “in different ways, the songs are all about trying, and mostly failing, to connect and find your place in the world.” 

The problem with such a big concept, not that this is a concept album as such, is that the music has to support it, be equally strong, engaging, and be able to convey the message. Perhaps most significantly it has to be compelling enough to hold your attention over two discs.

So what does he serve up to capture this theme? Well, all of these challenges are met head on by Marsland who delivers a recorded work of twenty-three tracks that may prove to be a career defining landmark.

This is a career that has already seen the Los Angeles based artist do session work with members of The Beach Boys and The Wrecking Crew. He has also worked with the Chaos Band, who appear here, and fronted Cockeyed Ghost with whom he has released four albums, alongside four more of his own. 

Despite the heartache and hard work behind its creation Go West sounds almost effortless. It is as though the album took on a life of its own somewhere during its creation and the result hangs together smoothly with each track being carefully, and thoughtfully placed.

Lyrically the realities of life are all on display. The joy of first love, through to violence, betrayal, incest, mental illness, failure, disillusionment, and many other forms of sadly relevant darkness. This bleak description again belies the 'whole' and there are also moments of wide-eyed innocence, enthusiasm, and hunger for the promise of what life promises.

The songs are written into a myriad of smoothly blended musical styles. There is memorable pop styling, some power-pop, a little seventies tinged rock, some soul, a splash of country, and a little club styled funk. All of this is wrapped around some superbly constructed melodies with enough hooks to make the album, despite its scale, a compelling ride.

Go West opens with “Standing In Chicago” a song that tells of the moment that he received the call informing him that his brother had died. “Burn Down The World” sets an early standard that the album somehow manages to maintain. It is a song about hope and youthful enthusiasm.

With that, the journey starts and winds its way through many well paced highlights. One of the twists arrives early with a cover of The Damned’s “Stranger On The Town”. It's inclusion is essential to the album's theme and highlights the fact that it’s the journey that should be taken here and that this is no place to merely dip a toe into a pond of MP3’s.

The club styling of “I Don’t Want To Dance With You” adds further colour to the story before it links nicely into the eighties flavour of “Learning The Ropes”. This sees our young man trying to get noticed in the big city and, of course, in life itself. The easy pop of “December 24”, leads to the most powerful track on the first CD “1 In 4”, a disturbing song about incest.

With such a work there is always the risk of a loss of direction or momentum. However, with Go West Marsland cleverly sidesteps those pitfalls. For example, CD2 has the disturbing “My Pain” a track that despite its heartfelt emotions is lifted by its Beach Boys like harmony and gentle melody.

Quite simply, there are far too many moments to discuss here and I have only succeeded in nudging at the album’s door. The ultimate strength of Go West is in its structure, its framework, and the well though-out lyrical ideas that have been carefully built upon it.

Sure, dip in and try a sample but the point would surely be missed, the story unheard, and the meshing of musical styles misunderstood. Better still go the distance and Go West with Adam Marsland on his journey out into the big wide world.

More information about the album can be found by visiting Adam Marsland's MySpace page.

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