Rob Marshall, one time sonic backbone of the stupendous Exit Calm, has surfaced under the pseudonym Humanist. I could cut this review short by stating that the eponymous album is a belter, so buy it, turn up the volume and enjoy.
Of course life is a bit more complicated than that and so is the album. Humanist represents a collaboration between Rob Marshall and an impressive list of what you could only regard as serious underground musical favourites. It’s an eclectic bunch. Mark Lanaghan, Mark Gardner, Dave Gahan and Ron Sexsmith all make appearances as does Fleetwood’s own Sir John of Robb, taking time off from keeping the flame alive through Louder Than War, and his touring with The Membranes.
It’s no secret that the demise of Exit Calm may have also signalled Rob Mashall’s retirement from music altogether. however, a drive to do something different combined with his growing involvement with Mark Lanaghan rekindled his desire to write music. It also helped him to make the transition from band member to solo performer, producer, and composer. Contributing to Mark Lanaghan solo albums laid the foundations for the first part of the Humanist project. (Rob Marshall is co-writer of Mark Lanegan’s celebrated Gargoyle and Somebody’s Knocking)
The opening “Intro” is reminiscent of something like Glassworks, and unexpected given what we know of Rob Marshall. However, this leads into a more orthodox, and the first, contribution from Mark Lanaghan; Kingdom. This one of earlier tunes written for the album and reputedly Lanaghan was used as a sounding board for this and other material. I think you can tell this at it really plays to the rough, rich, and unmistakable tones that he delivers over the looping guitars and effects. In fact the way Rob Marshall handles the Lanaghan vocals is a fundamental characteristic of the album.
That is not to say that there are not a lot of dimensions in the way the songs are delivered. The variety of contributors is a measure of that. But the outstanding feature of the album is that it is a discrete and mature body of work, maybe in spite of all the different approaches that the contributors bring.
It occurred to me on the third listen or so, that you could imagine these these songs appearing on say a Mark Lanaghan or Ron Sexsmith album, or of any of the respective vocalists.. This is definitely true of English Ghosts featuring John Robb. This would not have seemed at all out of place on What Nature Gives / Nature Takes Away; whispering half spoken vocals and driving bass.
For the most part it seems that the songs represent a deliberate attempt to leave Exit Calm behind. The opening Lanaghan contributions are more electronic and effects laden but I suppose it’s hard to deny your roots so by the time we get to Shock Collar with Dave Gahan the guitars are much in evidence. But the song that gives me the goosebumps of Exit Calm nostalgia is When The Lights Go Out featuring Ride’s Mark Gardener. The, drum intro; those guitars. You expect Nicky Smith to be singing.
The excellent Humanist is released today 21st February 2020. In addition Rob Marshall will be taking these tunes on tour starting at our own The Sunflower Lounge on 23rd March. Continuing the theme of top drawer collaborations, James Mudriczki will be handling the vocal duties. If you know of Puressence or Nihilists then you’ll know this will be an additional treat.
Full tour details
23rd March The Sunflower Lounge BIRMINGHAM
24th March The Lexington LONDON
25th March Picture House SHEFFIELD
26th March Nice N Sleazy GLASGOW
27th March Riverside 2 NEWCASTLE
28th March Soup Kitchen MANCHESTER
29th March Prince Albert BRIGHTON
Review: Ian Gelling