In the deep subspace of human consciousness, strange and beautiful things can happen. A galaxy unto itself, this abyss harbors the polydactyl monster of growth and self-discovery. Like a classic science fiction tale, Marcus Alan Ward's new album, Last Night I Grew Tentacles, explores these depths.
The outlandish title of Ward's first full-length album speaks to multiple levels of his artistry. On the base level, LNIGT could easily be the title of a pulp fiction book or '50s B-movie amongst a series of other novels with titles like My Girlfriend's A Sea Monster or I Was A Teenage Shark-Lizard Man. It pops with weirdness but subtly hints at a deeper meaning.
"I use it kind of as a metaphor for growth, basically," Ward says. "So, last night I expanded my creativity or spirituality or whatever it was. It just became a metaphor for exponential growth. Creatively branching out. But it also mirrored a science fiction story of someone waking up and growing tentacles and taking this intergalactic journey through time and space."
Last year's Eskimo EP showed Ward to be a more beat-driven electronic composer. Heavy drums and up-tempo tracks lie on top of the artist's soulful voice and Technicolor soundscapes; it's a path he deliberately strays from now.
Dropping the moniker Freeze-Tag, Ward creatively exposes himself in a stunningly personal way in LNIGT. Now, as a more channeled composer, he embraces his musical evolution.
"I had been thinking about it for a while," Ward says of the name change. "This is why I hadn't put Freeze-Tag on [Eskimo EP] because I knew I was going to change my name eventually. But I decided to go with my real name because I kept getting mistaken for a band or a DJ. Then, it really just draws distinction to the fact that I'm a one man composer and that it's just me."
Swarming with dense soundscapes that swirl like cosmic nebulae, the album is a unique and singular experience. The bleeding between tracks and overarching pulsing make it a living and breathing organism.
The single "You Do" offers Ward at his best. A slow-but-moving electronic rendering of R&B, it soars with a sensitive sexuality surrounded by glistening jazz harmonies. Ward's voice enters the musical texture as if it were an accompanying instrument. The vocals stay behind the beat to allow the free-flowing textures room to breathe, then strengthening their presence in the verses to move the song into sensual intimacy.
"Shy" emphasizes Ward's desire to present R&B in a manner that's less about male-domination and more on honest passion and insecurity.
"If you hear most African-American mainstream R&B records, it's mostly sexually driven," Ward says. "It's mostly male-dominating. I love Prince; he's one of my favorite artists of all time. It's sexually driven music, super-sexual, but when he would talk about it he was submitting to the female. The female was this all-powerful, all-being that he was so overwhelmed by the girl hurting him or he was overwhelmed by her."
Ward tries to circumvent the clichés.
"I wanted to get back to that feeling when most R&B is not dominating the female. I wanted to say I'm shy and just be vulnerable," he says. "Most R&B music is not vulnerable like that. It was about a moment where you're with a girl but maybe you're not totally confident or you're shy. Just tap into that moment of vulnerability."
The struggle between personal growth and deviation from societal norms plays a pivotal role in Ward's declaration of individuality.
"I know my place in music history and I know where I want to be," he says. "And of course you compare yourself to other black artists who've done this before and you want to differentiate yourself. So, I don't know many black artists that are making music like what I'm making. And I know my place in that and I know my place in mainstream black music. I have a lineage that I am driven to carry on the tradition of."
Confronting musical expectations, Ward's music comes from a place equal parts sincerity and defiance.
"I'm super conscious of the fact that rap is the dominant genre now. If I walk into a music shop and say, 'I'm going to play a show tomorrow,' the dude will immediately say, 'Oh, I love rap. What artists do you like?' Or if I have a conversation, I tell someone that I'm a musician they say, 'Do you rap?' or 'Do you have a mixtape out?' So, it's automatically synonymous with a black a person that they rap. It's like a default music. And I've been dealing with that all of my life."
So Ward incorporates a large amount of intricate composition into his work. Studying jazz in college, his music stresses an importance on harmony, which can be heard throughout LNIGT.
"My teacher would always tell me everybody knows about melody, but the least popular one that not many people know about is harmony. So I made it a point to learn about harmony and get really great at making six or seven part harmonies, contrasting motion and stuff like that."
Chord structures are graced with jazz extensions, creating an off-center tonality mixing familiarity with uncertainty. While the album has largely psychedelic overtones, the entire canvas is painted in a shade of blue. All the while, the intricate detail of this intergalactic journey of growth resonates with Ward's personal beliefs.
"It's my driving force to bring musicianship back to popular music."
Last Night I Grew Tentacles gets its official release August 12 but pre-orders are available at marcusalanward.bandcamp.com.