Marshall Watson: Math and Other Word Problems
Highpoint Lowlife

Those who dreaded Calculus 201 have little to fear from Math and Other Word Problems, Marshall Watson's follow-up to his ultra-melodic 2004 debut The Time Was Later Than He Expected. Song titles like “Harmonic Analysis of Periodic Function” and “Pascal's Triangle” might sound intimidating but their musical contents go down easily.

The new collection does, however, announce a significant shift in focus from the first album's song-oriented sparkle to atmospheric, wide-screen soundscaping with elements of dub, techno, and microhouse now more prominently heard. Watson's trademark attention to detail is still present as any one of the disc's nine pristine settings makes clear, and a generally becalmed ambiance reigns but not so much that a wide range of moods can't emerge throughout the collection. While “Imaginary Number” basks in a breezy and summery jubilance that recalls the earlier release, a portentous snarl darkens “The Law of Signs.” The lurching undertow of “Pascal's Triangle” is almost buried beneath a writhing mass of clanks, smears, and ripples while shuffling beats, Basic Channel reverberance, and chiming melodies deepen the immersive atmosphere of “Harmonic Analysis of Periodic Function.”

Admittedly, the Mathematics theme is a conceptual springboard of sorts but hardly a random one. Wisely sidestepping logical complexity as an end in itself, Watson's music clearly parallels the discipline in other key ways: both require rigor and care in their execution, and both exude a sleek sheen and elegant beauty in their final form.

November 2006