Marla Mase: Half-Life

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Marla Mase is a lot of things: grungy yet ethereal, earthy but progressive, and both easy to like and very polarizing. She has the sexual honesty of some newer female solo artists like Fever Ray and Lana del Rey, but doesn’t really appeal to either mystical or cultural symbols, respectively, to elucidate her sexuality. Instead she is about as plain and straightforward in her desires as the Red Hot Chili Peppers; in fact her funky, bluesy style seems to draw on a few similar influences, with a bit of country thrown in for good measures.

The cover of Marla Mase’s latest recording.
The cover of Marla Mase’s latest recording.

For better or worse, her gritty, shameless sexuality is probably what will earn most of her fans’ admiration, whether they be eager males worshipping at her temple, or women reveling in her sexual liberation and strong-woman image. I’ll give her that she earns it: she’s obviously a talented performer and seems very comfortable on stage from the videos I’ve seen, albeit a little forced; I haven’t seen her live in person, though, so it’s impossible to tell how she really comes across.

Her new album, Half-Life, is mostly a self-expose (literally; look at the cover) on her sexual exploits. It’s slightly more diverse than her previous releases; it includes a club release/remix of “Things That Scare Me” from her 2010 release A Brief Night Out which sounds more like the Talking Heads than anything she does on her own.

It’s obvious that she loves funk; it seems to be her pet influence that gets thrown in over the top of her more innate singer-songwriter disposition, and it works pretty well. This track in particular works really well with her voice: the combination of singing and spoken word is directly reminiscent of the Talking Heads, and it really works with her style, both vocally and lyrically.

The album opens with “Drown in Blue,” which is straight blues-funk-rock and while I don’t think her voice meshes with the style, the music is played really well and I like it. The guitar work, in particular, is very clean and sounds impressively improvised at times. It starts to sound more like Marla in the hook, and again in the bridge at the end, and even though the rest sounds a bit different from what I like to hear from her, it’s still good music. I’m sure this track would be really fun to hear live.

SPEAK-OpenpleasecageThe title track, “Half-Life,” is slow and sultry, with drums, electric bass, sax (nice touch), and a few synthesized tones taking up most of the space on the track, with an acoustic guitar chiming in on the hook. She alternates between beat poet-esque spoken lyrics and singing, which adds to the intimate atmosphere of the track. This track is probably the most real, raw track on the album, and is a good blend of standards and mixing styles. She even mixes in a bit of her slightly more pop-rock sound in, and it’s not really offensive because of the appropriate contrast it offers. It’s definitely the most compelling track on the album.

“The Heart Beats” follows a similarly sultry theme, despite appearing later on the album. It builds appropriately on her strongest suit: it starts with an almost tribal beat, and her very fitting spoken-word lyrics. The flitting echoes, usually something I find cheesy except in darker music like Tool, feels appropriate here. Despite similar musical tendencies, this track is more intense than “Half-Life,” with tension building throughout the track until the final revelation: “We are all in this dance … together.” Really well done, in my opinion.

“Gaping Hole” is a bit more generic, at least to my ears. It sounds like pretty straightforward country-rock, and, to be blunt, is a bit crass, even for her. I mean…the title of the track is “Gaping Hole.” This is a pretty played-out female metaphor for someone who seems like she is trying to be progressive; sure, she acts out on the theme with a bit more insouciance than most, but it’s still pretty cliché, especially considering that the music is pretty darn generic.

“Bitch in Heat” takes a totally different direction from either, though: here she hearkens back to the 90’s, with an opening beat that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Sublime track or early 90’s hip hop, and grungy guitar lines that sound like 80’s and 90’s rock. It’s a bit of a cheesy mix, but it works for her style.

ArlenesMMTDJDThe final track, “Hold Fast Your Dreams,” is pure bedtime blues, with a piano and standup bass, and a cymbal and soft snare providing the rhythm. It’s a softly inspirational track, and it rounds out the album nicely.

Marla’s not someone I would ever want to date, but then I doubt she’d be very interested in me either! Regardless, she makes some really quality tunes on this album and I’m sure we’ll see more from her. Listening to her other albums, I can hear more of that slow, sultry quality that I really enjoy about her and I hope she plays to her strengths and builds on it.

The funk motifs work really well for her too; I’d love to hear a little more of that Talking Heads influence, because it meshes really well with her vocal style and propensity for mixing in spoken word. But who knows, maybe she’ll help us feel something new next time she calls us over.

(All photos provided by Marla Mase website: