Jesse Marchant is a rare breed today in that his music is timeless. The Montreal-born, New York-based singer-songwriter could easily be mistaken for Nick Drake’s twin, Mark Kozelek’s equal when it comes to vivid storytelling, and Jim James’ peer with respect to vocals that leave a lasting imprint. His 2014 self-titled album reflected all these element, as Marchant delivered one of the year’s most enthralling and dazzling records. Unsurprisingly, the LP made several “Best of” lists, including our own. Fast forward four years and Marchant returns with another album, Illusion of Love, that is simply spellbinding, and it cements his status as one of music’s most cinematic artists.
Like its predecessor, Illusion of Love is filled with ethereal and breathtaking alt-folk numbers. At the same time, Marchant comes armed with a number of surprises that sees him expand his sound and reach, but without compromising the immediacy of his music. The solemn “All These Kids I Never Knew” opens the record, which sees Marchant turn political as he describes the shooting of an innocent person in the back. It’s a surprising turn from an artist who captivated listeners with emotionally-charged stories. With his voice filled with remorse, Marchant shares one of the early year’s most gripping lyrics.
“To be shot in the back
While you are running away.
To be fat and scared,
Saddest man running
I have ever seen.
Who’s gonna stand a chance?
I wouldn’t have, no one ever would.
“All These Kids I Never Knew” sets the stage for the rest of the album, which is filled with memories and moments of lost innocence. The gorgeous “Sister, I” is Marchant trying to give meaning to his sibling and himself. The arresting string arrangements are gorgeous, adding to the song’s intimacy and beauty. They return on the languid piano-driven ballad, “In This Short Time”, which is a continuation of “Sister, I”. In this case, however, it is a one last goodbye. Marchant’s vocals are soft and gentile, yet one could hear the tears falling with each touch of the keys. Meanwhile, a moment of introspection is revealed on the Jim James-like acoustic ballad, “I’ve Got Friends”. This time Marchant reflects on the value of lives of those around him, where not even flying “first class” and taking a “private vacation” could fill the growing void in one’s heart.
There is, however, brightness in Marchant’s music, even in the most tender songs. For instance, the warm and stunning “Burning Red” is about second chances and living life to its fullest. There there is “Frame for One”, one of the most beautiful and engrossing numbers of the year. Despite the anguish and pain of his past, an element of hope and optimism rings through Marchant’s voice. These are the words of a man constantly on the move and still searching to connect with someone and possibly with himself.
“In the twilight with all my mending bones,
Still a hairline crack
In each one, give it time.
But I was well tired of waiting
When I leapt off my ship
Into the tide.”
Things get brighter on the rousing anthem, “Heart Of Mine”, which is a mix of Neil Young, Jason Isbell, and The War On Drugs. The crunchy guitar riffs and the booming rhythms provide the framework for this instant folk-rock classic. Marchant’s vocals are filled with raw emotion, as he recounts his youth and his innocence. Recalling a time when his life revolved around a precious few. The highlight, though, is the brilliant “6 & 5”. With its surging percussion and crystalline guitars, Marchant takes a page out of the Montreal music scene. This crunchy rocker is stark yet gripping, brooding but transfixing. Marchant’s songwriting reaches new heights, as he masks a political statement within the prism of fantasy. A fantasy that exists in one man’s cynical mind.
“Who will react to the sound of the alarm?
I won’t be there,
An empty sound people railing on,
So you can’t see the hollow breath
Between the words of fools.
A merciless affair.”
After experiencing Illusion of Love‘s grandeur, merciless might be one way to describe the effect of Marchant’s artistry. Even during the quieter and most intimate moments, a boldness rings through his voice or the subtleties of each stroke of the violin or strike of the keys. The more anthemic numbers, meanwhile, reverberate for hours afterwards, reminding us that music at its peak is the most powerful form of art. With his fourth album, Jesse Marchant reminds us about his underappreciated brilliance and the timeless quality of his songs. An album that every generation of music fans can appreciate and one that once again will stand the test of time.
Illusion of Love is out now via No Other. Purchasing options are available here.
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