Coming in from the outside (New Jersey), Sean Marshall captures a sense of Midwestern misplacement and fleshes it out in a heartfelt debut.
Sean Marshall uprooted himself from his hometown of Ashbury Park, New Jersey, in 2014 and ended up in Columbus, Ohio—per his website.
Quite a change in locale, and one I can relate to as I made an inversion of that switch: going from Lima, Ohio, to New York City in 2015. Sitting and looking towards New Jersey as Marshall’s music speaks on themes of displacement and the effect of our surroundings on the formation of our identity, I feel a sense of the universal notion of being lost that Marshall is reaching toward, and the kinship which arises between all of us who feel out of place—and those of us kind enough to express it.
Suffice to say, New speaks a language I intrinsically understand. It speaks in a way I believe many who grew up listening to rock bounce from the punk to the pop to the alt to the folk will understand. New may, at times, be a little too referential, but Marshall is never fully lost in the deep inspiration of greats like Nirvana, Skynyrd, Weezer, and Fleetwood Mac. Or maybe that’s Marshall’s talent, surfacing all these disparate elements of my musical memory in the 37 minutes he has. A song like “Forget You” sounds like hearing something familiar for the first time.
The synthesis is a little lacking, though, as the album comes to resemble a greatest hits compilation in its structure: “Remember when rock sounded like this?” “Oh, and this too, remember this?” “Come on, I know you know this.” Granted, I do remember that—and how I wish I was there when the music everyone listened to sounded like this you may never know, Sean. But listening to New, I do feel a little closer to getting there.
Synthesis takes the backseat to dexterity for Marshall, at least here. Marshall’s mishmash doesn’t come about from a lack of talent—it comes about because he is a musician still discovering his voice, and an artist bold enough to share that process with us.
This mishmash works, it captures the odd malaise that comes with inhabiting the not-quite-urban, not-quite-rural landscape of the Midwest. The country influence that underlies most of the album before coming out in full-force in the last few songs (the sappy road tune, “Runaround,” being a high point) is more than welcome.
I look forward to Marshall developing his voice in his upcoming work. For right now, he speaks deeply to the part of me still clinging to the things I’ve used to define myself before I can trudge through to that deeper me.
Marshall’s lyrics are blunt but refreshingly honest; his voice holds back, but his guitar swoons. We’re all on the edge of something, New seems to keep chanting, and once we put the disparate pieces of our lives together, we’ll find ourselves, surprising in our clarity.
He communicates this best in “Lightning,” a stripped-down tune where Marshall speaks with his guitar rather than over it. We all go searching for ourselves in different ways—through different music, in different places, by staying rooted and waiting for the moment to hit us, or by going out to find it ourselves.
It’s at all times exciting and heartbreaking, a sentimental daydream about a future that may have just left us behind. No matter how you choose to look, you’ll find something in New, a melody for those who don’t know just yet.