Marc Hellner: Marriages

Marc Hellner steps away from his partnership in Pulseprogramming and touring duties with L'altra for the release of his full-length solo debut, the ironically-named Marriages. In fact, the title is rather misleading as he's joined by a number of impressive guests: Tortoise drummer John Herndon, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, double bassist Josh Abrams (Town & Country), and sound designers Joshua Eustis and Charles Cooper (aka Telefon Tel Aviv). You won't hear much of the fiery attack Herndon brings to Tortoise, however, as Marriages' style is generally subdued, the sole exception the almost anthemic “Asleep on the Wing” where Herndon's loose playing helps bury Hellner's voice under shoegaze. Otherwise, the album merges dreamy pop intimacy with delicate ambient sounds in meticulous, lushly orchestrated arrangements. Interestingly, Hellner includes as many instrumentals as vocal songs, despite the distinctive character of his softly whispered vocals which, in songs like the subtly psychedelic “Handshaking” and the chiming “Nonsense and Happiness,” immediately establish a Pulseprogramming connection. In the uniformly pretty instrumentals, elegant piano playing typically streams through landscapes of carefully sculpted electronic haze. His affection for classical minimalism and composers like Arvo Pärt and Howard Skempton emerges in the lovely “Last Chances,” with Lonberg-Holm accorded a virtual solo spotlight against a chamber backing of strings and piano. Eustis and Cooper co-produced the recording with Hellner, so it doesn't surprise that a Telefon Tel Aviv influence is present on occasion, most noticeably in the dub-funk ambiance of “Both of Use” and the minimal 'laptop soul' of the lulling meditation “Mine is Made Of.” Throughout the succinct Marriages, Hellner's music impresses for being both sonically sophisticated and emotionally direct.

September 2005