Influenced by coldwave, early-'80s synth pop, and the mighty bass playing of 's , Black Marble is the project of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Chris Stewart. When Stewart debuted in 2012 with The Weight Against the Door EP, he remained true to the frosty gloom of his influences, burying his monotone baritone with layers of echo, reverb, and analog synths. As time went on, however, he let more light and warmth into his music, particularly on 2016's It's Immaterial and 2019's Bigger Than Life, both of which reflected his move from Brooklyn to the sunnier climes of Los Angeles.
Black Marble's roots go back to the early 2010s, when Stewart began making music on his laptop. When he played his songs for his friends, they liked his songwriting but thought the instrumentation could sound better, so he looked to the scene around him in Brooklyn for inspiration. He found it in Wierd, a dance party that brought in synth-driven acts from around the world (and also spawned the influential label ). Stewart was particularly taken with the sound and analog gear of 's Sean McBride (also of ), and started building his own arsenal of vintage synths, including a Juno and a Korg DW-8000. Not long after, he joined up with ex-Team Robespierre member Ty Kube. The duo made their debut in January 2012 with The Weight Against the Door, an EP released by the Seattle label that introduced Black Marble's faithful update of coldwave's stark-yet-murky, bleak-yet-beautiful sound. That September, their first full-length A Different Arrangement appeared on the label and presented a slightly warmer and more melodic version of their style.
Following the release of A Different Arrangement, Stewart began to tire of living in New York. He planned a move to Los Angeles, but wanted to finish Black Marble's second album before he left. During this time, departed and Stewart was hospitalized with a serious case of pneumonia. These personal and physical changes were echoed on It's Immaterial, a lighter and clearer-sounding set of songs that released in October 2016. After settling in L.A., Stewart began work on his third album. Moved by the landscapes as well as the sense of community in his new home, he wrote more immediate songs that brought his voice front and center. In October 2019, released Bigger Than Life. The following August, Black Marble issued I Must Be Living Twice, an EP of songs originally by , , and that were favorites at the band's shows. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi
On Fast Idol, LA-based Black Marble reaches back through time to connect with the forgotten bedroom kids of the analogue era, the halcyon days of icy hooks and warbly synths always on the edge of going out of tune. Harmonies are piped in across the expanse of space, and lyrics capture conversations that seem to come from another room, repeat an accusation overheard, or speak as if in sleep of interpersonal struggles distilled down to one subconscious phrase. At the same time, percussive elements feel forward and cut through the mix with toms counting off the measures like a lost tribe broadcasting through the bass and tops of a basement club soundsystem.
Fast Idol is Stewart's fourth full-length album and his second for Sacred Bones. His previous album Bigger than Life was written in the face of cultural shifts in the US, in experiencing these he realised he was not keyed into certain negative sentiments that were bubbling below the surface, which were breaking out into the open. “I chose to try and take the approach of a soothsayer writing from a macro level, trying to find strands of connection between us because it didn’t feel appropriate to create something self referential and gloomy at the time,” he says.
Now, Fast Idol sees him return to a sentiment and process that defined the earlier days of Black Marble, in a return to his intuitive song writing process where songs land as impressionistic snippets of daily conflicts, and people struggle with the challenge of trying to move through the world. “People don’t expect me to be responsible for altering their outlook or mood, they come to hear something that meets them where they are. I trusted on this record that if I stayed in that space and created things from that more mysterious place, it would connect with others.”
Melodies roll with the fizz and charm of Jacno and phrases repeated are electric torchlight ballads sung after hours in William Gibson’s San Francisco. 'Somewhere' opens in sombre herald, before dropping into a fast freeway tempo; the glassy synths and crisp beats cut through the anxious moods on 'Bodies' and 'Try' sits in a lineage with cult bands like Asylum Party. 'The Garden' is a journey through a post-apocalyptic cityscape, earthed by the pulse of a drum machine whereas 'Ship To Shore' could be a lost Oppenheimer Analysis B-side, and the album’s closer 'Brighter and Bigger' catches a sentiment like The Dadacomputer has learned to feel emotions.
Black Marble is the universal and enigmatic observer at the centre of his music, watching time passing, the world changing, and embracing the anxiety it brings. He captures the loneliness of Ray Bradbury’s atomic-era sci-fi and the apocalyptic but revolutionary spirit of Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil, as in ‘Preoccupation’, the beating heart of the album, which conjures ambivalent scenes of an empty world and the comfort to be found in a shared humanity in lyrics that state: “What is gone only people and time, standing tall covered cities and signs. Well I’ve wandered the west side and I’ve laughed at your broken roads but this feeling of preoccupation makes life whole.”
Stewart writes and plays everything himself, and tours with a rotating cast of players. Emerging from the early 2000s New York synth scene, Black Marble carried on the tradition of early synthwave pioneers like Martin Dupont and Modern Art who repurposed synths once reserved for expensive studios and stadium rock superstars. Available widely and cheaply for the first time, these synths became a staple for bedroom artists – connecting wires and twisting knobs into something that felt entirely new. Seeking to channel this spirit, Black Marble recalls the gauzy tape wow and flutter of The Membranes and the warbling VCO of Futurisk, carrying on a sound that seeks to channel the future while imprinting residue of the past. These early reference points are still audible, an electronic sound steeped in punk spirit, galvanised by passion: "When I started making songs I got enough positive feedback just to keep me going," Stewart says, "and then I never stopped."
Black Marble was signed with just one song available online, and Stewart has been writing songs and making music ever since, beginning with A Different Arrangement on Hardly Art in 2012, followed by It's Immaterial in 2016 on Ghostly International and Bigger Than Life on his current label Sacred Bones in 2019, with two EPs also to his name. "On my previous album I was more specific about the themes I was talking about," Stewart says. "Fast Idol goes back to the songwriting on my early records, where the themes were guided by intuition and instinct – often, their meanings only become clear to me after they're written."
Fast Idol sees Black Marble face the rising tide of uncertainty, leaving our future selves to trace its signal as its frequencies echo into an interstellar expanse, looking for a receiver. He says: "I want my music to stick with you after I leave, even though you might not feel like you’re any closer to knowing it."