Today Black Marble aka Chris Stewart shares the heartwarming video for the brightly arpeggiated new single “Preoccupation” which appears on the upcoming album Fast Idol, due out October 22, 2021 on Sacred Bones Records. Black Marble is set to tour the UK October as well as next spring.
“Preoccupation” is the beating heart of Fast Idol, wherein Stewart captures the loneliness of Ray Bradbury’s atomic-era sci-fi and the apocalyptic but revolutionary spirit of Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil, conjuring 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.”
Black Marble worked with mixed-media collective Crack Cloud on the video for “Preoccupation,” ultimately embracing the song’s themes by running with a tenderly meta approach which resulted in a video within a video, beautifully capturing various intersections of creative pursuit and camaraderie; joyfully embracing the process over the product. These notes provided by Chris Stewart (which it so happens, appear in the video at the start via projector) served as a starting point:
“A kind of revolutionary spirit but back to nature post apocalyptic motif is what ‘Preoccupation’ is about. Sort of a return to barbarism, reclamation by nature over the state and the protagonists are observers of this going on and narrating it from an anthropological point of view…So anything that hints at these motifs but in your own way. “What is on the way?” is just questioning what is coming specifically but knowing what’s coming generally. I counted twice 1,2,3,4, but I reversed it, so it’s counting down – or counting up rather, but in reverse.”
Crack Cloud shares:
“‘What is on the way?’ is one of several thematic motifs in Black Marble’s ‘Preoccupation’ that grabbed our attention. Our world in recent years has been frozen in ambiguity, but from the perspective of an artist- such uncertainty goes hand in hand with the territory. The timing of this production felt like the end of a deep thaw; an invitation to start from square one. We entertained various concepts involving an observer and their connection to a shapeshifting world, but the excitement and shakiness of our own lives and as a group felt more tangible than any fiction we could commit to paper.
We contemplated our own creative process; what is the main motivating factor behind why we make art? In some sense it’s a means of creating a common ground or language to unite us. A sense of community and playfulness in all of life’s volatility. It’s this very essence that we sought to realize in our visual interpretation of the song.
The creative process for us is always clumsy, emotionally and in execution. Our storyboards are often half-baked and riffing off an idealistic notion rather than anything concrete. We wanted to share with the viewer as candidly as possible what this process looks like.
As day dreamers that wear our hearts on our sleeves, we made this video as a love letter to all artists, and the eternal optimism that they represent by nature of their own preoccupation.”
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 Lifewas 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”.