Adam Marsland and his former band Cockeyed Ghost were serious road warriors throughout the latter half of the 1990s, performing hundreds of shows a year and recording four albums between 1996 and 2000. When the band came to an end, Marsland carried on as a solo act, touring with his guitar and releasing a pair of albums under his own name. But even with a strong back catalog and a Rolodex full of contacts, Marsland finally surrendered to the grind of the itinerant indie musician in 2004. He stopped writing but kept playing and arranging, recorded the tribute album Long Promised Road: Songs of Dennis & Carl Wilson, and subsequently served as the musical director for the Beach Boys’ October 2008 tribute to Carl Wilson at the Roxy in Los Angeles.
Marsland reignited his recording career with the release of this bargain-priced set that distills his catalog to twenty songs spanning both Cockeyed Ghost and his solo releases. He’s touched up a few tracks and re-recorded a few more to even out a dozen years of instruments, studios, musicians and producers. Mastering engineer Earle Mankey gave the collection a final polish, and the results sound remarkably holistic. Long time fans will hear the songs as cherry-picked from various phases of Marsland’s career, but those new to the catalog will be impressed with how smoothly these tracks knit together. Marsland’s a clever writer, in the vein of Ben Folds and Ben Vaughn, and his music spans pop and rock with underpinnings of soul. This isn’t exactly power pop (not nearly enough broken hearts), but there’s plenty of chime in the guitars and hooks in the melodies.
The opening “My Kickass Life” could easily succumb to jokey sarcasm, but Marsland sings instead of the satisfaction found in the mistakes that have shaped him. The flipside of that contentment include the low point of solo touring, “I Can’t Do This Anymore,” and the fictional musician abandoning his adopted California in “Ludlow 6:18.” The latter may also be the tail end of the fleeing protagonist of “Disappear.” Marsland often throws listeners a curveball by matching lyrics of depression and ennui to chipper melodies that suggest things aren’t as bad as the words claim. Not so with “Ginna Ling,” whose dark twist cuts through the frothy sing-songy pop, and whose chorus changes meaning mid-song. The existential angst of “The Foghorn,” a song based on contemplations of a parent’s mortality, is even more straightforward.
Marsland’s affection for the Wilson brothers is evident throughout, but particularly in “The Fates Cry Foul,” which sounds like a modern-day Brian Wilson tune, and the Beach Boys-styled vocal harmonies of “Portland.” The high harmonies of “Big Big Yeah” borrow a page from Jan & Dean and add a spark to this wonderfully sarcastic song about disposable buzz bands. All in all, this is a good introduction to an artist whose acclaim should be wider, and a great way to catch up before Marsland unleashes a new album currently projected for March 2009. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]