Sid Hagan & Marvin Taylor – スワンプシング – Album Review
I am…far too uneducated to have any clue as to how I would pronounce this title…but from what I can tell through the ol’ translator online, it means “Swamp Thing.” As much as I’d love to say that helps just clear it all up, it ends up creating a whole other set of questions – where’s the swamp? Who, or what, is the thing? And how does the title end up playing a role as the official moniker for this set-list right here?
I don’t know that I’m gonna have an answer to all, or any of that for ya – but I do dig on what I hear in these six new tunes from Sid Hagan & Marvin Taylor. Some mysteries are intended to simply remain the mysteries they are, and some of course, we never quite solve…sometimes a title, is just a title…we never really know unless we’re on the inside of it all…over the years I’ve learned to accept that’s the way it is. What I can tell ya for sure, is that these longtime pals & musical cohorts have split the writing duties down the middle 50/50 in this six song set, they’ve enlisted a whole rack of studio talent & instrumental aces like Brian Wooten (Electric Guitar), Joe Carvell (Bass), Brent McCollough (Keys), Devon Sproule (Vocals), and Paul Curreri, who apparently handles “everything else” beyond what Sid & Marvin are doing in leading the way through these tunes. The utility man! Every band needs one of those, truly.
After roughly two years in the making, largely due to the pandemic era holding up the process just a LITTLE, スワンプシング has been officially released now…it came out technically at the end of last year in the middle of December. According to what I’ve read, the lineup of songs is kind of like…I dunno what you’d call it…sequential I suppose…a real-time experience of what went down musically, with the set-list reflecting the order of how they all came out. “Promises Lost” is where it all begins…Sid Hagan & Marvin Taylor and their whole crew of talent come out with cosmically-infused vibes and an atmospheric Rock sound that suits them really well. Lyrically, they’re examining the depths of truth, or perhaps more accurately, scrutinizing what we’re told is truth, and whether or not that’s really the case. “Don’t think you fooled us” as they’ll tell ya in the vocal hooks that are often found floating in the distance just as much as they are up front on the surface…almost echoing the voice inside our heads in that regard, fluctuating with a clever presence that stresses how the intensity of that feeling comes & goes in waves. Sometimes thinking we’re being fooled sends us into battle mode…sometimes it’s more of a guiding thought that flashes across our mind while we’re being lied to…”Promises Lost” seems to tap right into this through the way the hooks are presented. Depending on which record you ended up choosing, you might even feel like this drifts close to an artistically-inclined oddity like Stereolab…or of course, there are many Progressive-minded bands out around the scene that they might remind ya of for a second or two along the way…for the most part, I’m diggin’ the fact that they’ve got their own thing goin’ on, not just on “Promises Lost,” but true of the record overall. This set of six works out really well for Sid, Marvin & Co. – listen to the guitars…the keys…the rhythm section…listen to the creative freedom that exists and has them thriving around the vocals, and the smart layers of their harmonies.
Absolutely sensational guitars start up “When We Forget” following “Promises Lost” – both tunes of which were written by Sid to start up スワンプシング. All-in-all, the melody moves in genuinely smart and highly interesting directions – I like the vocals, but I might have to say that the music steals the show on this tune. At the most mellow moments and with the harmonies, the vocals all seem to come out right on the money; in the verses, I like what I hear in the writing & the performance but on my end here they came through peakin’ a bit in the mix…not a huge factor, but it seemed to display a different texture than the rest of the cut somehow. The clarity in the music though…good gravy-boat lighthouse y’all – there is award-worthy stuff goin’ on, straight-up – I love what I hear in the production on that level when it comes to “When We Forget.” These first two cuts are written by Sid…it’ll be a while before we get another, with his third offering appearing at the very end of the record…but believe me when I tell ya, that’ll be worth the waiting, and I feel like I’m confident in tellin’ ya his best is still yet to come in that regard. “When We Forget” would be right up there with the best of the best as far as the writing & idea are concerned – I can vouch for that without question…it’s a thought-provoking & evocative tune. Performance-wise, I’m missing a bit of something…that necessary spark in the vocals to rival the one we hear in the inspired music surrounding it all…but it’s not too far off. The more involved the vocals became with added layers & whatnot, the smoother the sound became…it was really only something about the verses in this tune that seemed to stand out a bit in the wrong direction production-wise, and “When We Forget” was the only track that seemed to have that potential issue. Different stereos, different settings…I don’t get beat up about this kinda stuff and I don’t lay the beatings out because of it either – it’s a matter of adjusting a dial or two on one side of the speakers or the other, simple & plain. They’ll know the answer for sure…Sid & Marvin will have a listen after reading my thoughts here and either find themselves agreeing, or they’ll think I’m completely crazy. Six or one half-dozen of the other.
The writing duties switch over to Marvin to lead the way through “Doubtful” – and they’ve probably stumbled their way right into a pretty damn universal set of rhythms & grooves to rock with for this third track here…it’s a lively & animated cut and the level of vibrant sound radiating through your speakers would be seriously tough to resist y’all. So no, I don’t recommend any of ya try to attempt that – just go with the flow, turn this on up, and let that badass combination of texture & tone hit ya the way it should, loud & proud. Marvin might be “Doubtful” in his lyricism, thoughts, and emotions expressed throughout this song, but when it comes to the execution from all hands on deck here, they ain’t nothing but CONFIDENT and sure of their combined professionalism leading straight to victory, which it does. Plus you get that whole scat-singin’ moment towards the end for the finale? C’mon y’all – you don’t bust THAT move out unless you’re genuinely FEELIN’ IT, you follow me? Rest assured, that’s the case here – Sid, Marvin, and the whole crew of talent get right into this moment & give it their A-game. I’m not accusing them of recreating the wheel here – “Doubtful” is still rooted in the traditions of tried, tested, and true Blues-Rock, but you can’t argue with a performance that leaves you wanting nothing more. I’ll say more about the lineup of this EP towards the end of the review, but as far as first impressions go for this Marvin-led tune we’ve got here…the band turns it all up a notch on “Doubtful” and puts in a memorable performance that’ll make an impact. I mean…if you’re a fan of incredible guitar tones and really brilliant keyboard additions chimin’ in…clever effects in production…and all-around professional sound with oodles of style slidin’ on through your speakers in the smoothest of grooves…and you KNOW that you are – the odds are very much in favor of you diggin’ on this tune here.
“Buddy’s Boogie” is loaded up with personality in the music…mainly an instrumental tune with the exception of a strong vocal harmony to give it a little extra enticing sound & a welcoming, friendly vibe. You can’t help but love & appreciate the musicianship of these players combined together – they’re genuinely makin’ the magic happen for ya, right there in your speakers as you’re listening…it’s a track that’s built on good times and audible pleasantness. Like…if you were to put on “Buddy’s Boogie” and somehow turn it off? Believe me – that would tell us a whole lot more about YOU than it ever would about them – “Buddy’s Boogie” is about as inoffensive and inviting as music can potentially be, especially for a track that basically doesn’t even use a single word. I look at tracks like this as a real bridge for the masses out there that can bring them into the instrumental realm, by showing the pure joy & passion that can be put on display through great musicianship – this is a FUN track to listen to! No politics, no conflicts, no stress, no worries – “Buddy’s Boogie” was created as the antithesis to all that jazz…this is as straightforward as a song can be with the humble intentions of creating a great time for YOU to enjoy, no matter who ya are or where you are…it’d be super tough to not rally for the band in a moment like this. Love the sound of them loose hi-hats along the way…dig the rhythm of the bass and the noodlin’ on the guitars…”Buddy’s Boogie” would almost seem like an afterthought kind of tune were it not for such noticeable passion and how into it they all are. Ideas-wise, it has its main thing and they execute that thing with supreme confidence – but sure, noticeably more spare in comparison to the rest of the set-list if we’re nit-pickin.’ Doesn’t mean it doesn’t have everything it needs or should have – it does! “Buddy’s Boogie” is well short of the average length of the songs on this record, not on the value of your entertainment – personally I think this one ends up being way more addictive than you assume it will be at first. It’s hard to do ‘happy’ right in a song – these guys prove they can, and sincerely connect.
Keyboards up loud, the slick cool of the band’s talents combined glide ya through the final cut in the set of three written by Marvin, called “Let’s Get Real” and keep the energy up, while still offering up a song with genuine substance & undeniable style. Lyrically, I could make a solid argument for this being my favorite track of the EP…I love the attitude, I love the directness, I love the authentic call to action that it truly IS…they might not come out & say that last part as directly as the rest, but it’s certainly implied. We’re talkin’ about one of those tracks that’s preachin’ the good word on social revolution, calling out important issues, and laying out a perspective I can certainly appreciate…they’re essentially asking us all to drop that veil & veneer of BS and play it straight – which is one heck of an ask in today’s world! “Let’s Get Real” they say! The gall! To want truth, and solid facts, and reliable information? How DARE they! Another highlight example of the progression & evolution occurring not only within the set-list, but in this collaboration as they continued to create – I felt like Sid & Marvin ended up revealing their two strongest cuts in the lineup at the end of スワンプシング . I basically grew up on these kind of tunes – real musicianship, multiple-player bands…and kind of naturally hearing where my old man, the keyboardist, found his way into the space…listening to “Let’s Get Real” was a genuine reminder of those days from long ago. He’s still rockin’ to this very day with the Canadian band Prism, but it’s more of a rehearsed set I’m familiar with now – listening to a track like “Let’s Get Real” took me back to when I was still hearing these kind of ideas happen in real-time…how that one blast of the right synth sound at just the right time, could become so very essential, much like what you hear in the keys on “Let’s Get Real.” Marvin’s clearly got his own style & approach to making music that is different than Sid’s – he leans much more towards that Blues influence at the roots of the tunes you’ll find here, but there’s still this like…really rad space right in between that they seem to meet, which allows them to really help each other build these songs into pretty darn bulletproof results. I listen to “Let’s Get Real” and there’s nothing I feel like is out of place, dragging the song down, or unnecessary – these guys get what they’re going for, know how to execute, and the quality of what they’ve got here is vastly consistent all-around.
Time can treat us really well, even when we don’t always realize that’s actually happening as we’re locked into the moment and the process itself – you’ll hear what I’m talking about as you progress through this set-list of songs…which again, as I mentioned towards the start of my ramblings, is laid out sequentially in the order they recorded them. So what I’m sayin’ is…if you somehow get to “Writes Cards In Spanish” and don’t feel like you just experienced the two best songs on this album back-to-back with “Let’s Get Real” beforehand and the expanded length & spectacular musicianship you’re hearing – then you’re listening upside-down or with your ears on backwards – check that out. To me, there’s no doubt about it. I think there are moments that really break through along the way, like hearing that first cut “Doubtful” and the switch in sound that occurs with a Marvin-led tune – but I could definitely make a case for this EP getting stronger & stronger as it plays on, leaving us on what could very well be its most ultimate highlight, right at the end with “Writes Cards In Spanish.” If there’s something they could have done to make this final cut any more perfect than it is, I’m certainly not hearing it – all I hear is the art, passion, craft, and focus of a group of true professionals at work, doing what they truly love to do. I’m tellin’ ya folks – you’ll find the real magic of music itself in this final song – this is what it sounds like when you’re right in the pocket, feelin’ the groove, lost in the moment, and goin’ where the music takes ya…as a result, we go along more than willingly for the ride through what’s nearly eight & a half-minutes in length! Again – the GALL y’all – can you imagine that? In this day & age of two-minute attention spans, they’re demanding more than four times what people can normally spare and then EARNING IT with one of the most kickass, atmospherically-inclined vibes that you’re gonna hear this year? The stones on these guys! Daring to just be bold and brilliant, highly artistic & imaginative like they are here right at the end of the record throughout the ambitious design & journey through the lengths of their last two tracks…I tell ya – I don’t know where Sid Hagan & Marvin Taylor get off trying to pull such a stunt like this! The nerve! I’m incensed! I’m stirred UP! I’m…fully entertained? All kidding aside – I’m a big fan of this final cut and felt like there was almost no comparison to be made here – for my own personal taste, this is probably the closest to it. Love the distance in the music & vocals, the clever use of the lefts & the rights in production, the subtle digital elements in the background…how far away it all seems, yet how very close at the same time…and I really dig how conclusive it feels. You get to “Writes Cards In Spanish” and it feels like you’ve reached the end…Sid Hagan, Marvin Taylor, and the whole crew take you out on mesmerizing & hypnotic, dreamy vibes that are as vivid as they are vibrant…it’s a perfect ending to this set of songs, and overall, these last two certainly speak volumes of even more incredible things to come. In fact…I’ve got it on good authority that this collaboration will continue on under a different name (Yoga Injury) with a slightly different lineup later on this year…and if we’re to take “Let’s Get Real” and “Writes Cards In Spanish” as the indication of what’s to come, being the most recent tunes they’ve written together & all…I’d say we might just be in for one heck of a record to come. I want a whole lot more of what I’m hearing in this final tune – are they taking requests? Keep your eyes on these pages of ours…you know when the moment arrives & that new collaboration comes out, we’ll be listening, 100%.
Find out more about Sid Hagan at the official page of O.K. Then. Records here: http://www.okthenrecords.us
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