Marlon Williams Adds Another Dimension to Heartbreak

Make Way For Love is the kind of album on which every song demands that it become your favourite, where every listen uncovers unheard nuances such that the spotlight falls onto an entirely different track each time.

Were you to attempt to make a playlist for a friend, indecisiveness would see to it that every song on the album made it on, in chronological order. And it is in this way, that Marlon Williams’ sophomore album triumphs. Although no single song reaches the high points of his previous records Dark Child or Hello Miss Lonesome, the entire album is cohesive in a way that cannot be said of his first strong, but inconsistent offering. Each song furthers a narrative of heartbreak and hope, adding a new dimension to what is at first glance a breakup album; Williams having just separated from fellow New Zealand songsmith Aldous Harding.

The first two songs, “Come to Me” and “What’s Chasing You?” build up and then smash down a facade of contentedness. They are simple, but crafted so skilfully that the basic three-chord structure is excused when embellished with vitriolic, sparkling guitar lines, a punchy but understated rhythm section, and of course, Williams’ incredible voice. In its timelessness and strength, it draws comparisons to Elvis, but its vulnerability is what conveys the most emotion. In “Party Boy” he allows his voice to waver in hesitant vibrato as he addresses a sinister competitor ‘sniffing around [his] pride and joy’. This song also displays a newfound confidence within Williams’ music, switching from folk and bluegrass roots in favour of singing candidly about his own experience, aided by new arrangments such as cinematic strings and soaring falsetto backing vocals which bring to mind Scott Walker in their grandiosity, as seen in “Beautiful Dress”.

Marlon Williams – Artwork by Bruno Cowen

The obvious centrepiece on the album is “Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore”, a duet with its subject and muse, Aldous Harding. The strong and controlled voices of the two interlock, complimenting each other in a way that makes explicit the influence both artists have on each other. The first half of the song carries the influence of The Velvet Underground; the sweetness of the song satirised by its own existential overtones. The song appears to finish, with the spare arrangement of his vocals and guitar reappearing just in time to deliver the most simple yet heartbreaking lyrics Williams has yet penned: “What am I gonna do / when I can see that you’ve been crying / and you don’t want / no help from me.” The sweetness of his voice is nearly too much to bear, his melisma so soft and vulnerable that you cry out for some sort of relief. And indeed, you get it—as the strings ascend ever so slowly to the tonal centre, the final song, “Make Way for Love” crashes over you like a wave, refreshing in its simplicity.

And just like that, the album is over—the songs are consistent in their confidence and the quality of instrumentation, but they vary enough to offer different perspectives and create a sense of flow without becoming monotonous, switching direction the moment you begin to feel a lull. Make Way For Love does not leave you wanting more, but leaves you satisfied. It is not a perfect album—the songs are simple and rooted in musical traditions, but this simplicity and the synthesis of tradition with Marlon’s own unique role in contemporary music is what makes the record so successful. Its very subtlety makes it work. So grab your chillybin, forget about Flight of the Conchords, and make way for the first great album of 2018.

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