Jake Marshall – Fresh Water

“I was interested in distress sounds, sirens, flares, etc,” reads a peculiar passage from the press junket for Jake Marshall’s debut album. Quite humorously, the same statement could double as surplus copy for Her Majesty’s Coastguard. The London-based musician and visual artist’s exploratory first release, Fresh Water, features eight tracks themed around motifs of emergency and crisis. With a conceptual arc starring repurposed survival signals, one might forecast a cyclone worthy of striking scurvy into the heartiest sea-wizened veteran. Instead, Marshall’s Fresh Water thrills with rhythmic revelations, inducing sonic mirages along the way.

Whether shipwrecked or just plain lost, survival calls have served a single purpose throughout history: When facing threat to life or limb, one must make a visible or audible signal which will draw immediate attention. Quite tellingly, blaring alarms initiate Fresh Water: a quartet of sirens sizzle in mid- and hi-frequencies throughout “P5ws.” Woven together sparingly, frayed horns pulse in binary hysteria as synthetic strings shudder beneath. Directed by a drum beat ricocheting down dub hallways, “Forgo” bristles with elongated notes trembling in monotone to the image of a lonely flare sinking slowly underwater.

Looped into modulated motifs akin to a minimalist composer with an ear for Krautrock, the sirens return on “Grid,” ear-piercing and chest-rattling, throbbing for spine-tingling miles. “Jan 1” opens with a celestial transmission: squelching feedback spins in limbo across ham radio frequencies; ghostly harmonics arouse the stereo field to a mild melody light enough to catch a breeze—or a cold. “Thro” ignites its twilight signal on the deck of the stranded cargo ship. But the search boat’s probing lights sweep right by, oblivious to the blazing oil barrel shrouded by fog. Now try to get some sleep.

Fatigue setting in, Fresh Water’s title track revives the remaining survivors with club-ready sirens. Cycling up and down frenetic scales, white light from a high intensity strobe machine pulses vigorously on a dance floor driven by 4/4 beats. Cast in the nimbus of neon glow sticks, the mid-track lull blurs into an elfin trill: woozy like a Wurlitzer high on helium. A fluttering flute descends, fending off flies: wah-wah’d notes washed by an oblivion of pitch-shifted keys. As the helicopters circle nearby, keep both arms outstretched—raising and lowering them repeatedly.

“Like A Mothers Love” exudes little assurance in said patrimonial affection. A vaguely Middle-Eastern melody pushes through static, liquefying into the skipping bass of a fog horn. Other accoutrements gradually festoon the proceedings: a sonic ritual forms around the raising of a maritime flag; hollow synths float steadily behind a constellation of electronic clamoring; a bobbing bass line, punctuated by hollow wood blocks, carries a Morse code transmission into heat-craze and hunger. Apply sunscreen liberally.

“Outro” introduces resignation onto the lone life raft. Ruffled waves nudge the rubber boat sideways, the microphone crackling with an indifferent wind. As the stranded oil tanker slumps into the water: cavernous explosions boom alongside handguns fired overhead. A solemn synth tapers towards blackout, reaching for rations and reasons. Leery that the nearing helicopter may be merely a hallucination, the sole survivor casts dye markers overboard—just to be safe. The search team hovers on the horizon as lazy waves guide a pool of green dye starboard: drifting away from the raft, pulling towards a final hope.

Although not without aquatic dangers, Fresh Water graciously negates the possibility of death by drowning or predation. Playfully buoyant and brightly colored, there is no need to measure Fresh Water’s salinity. And yet the absence of salt is no guarantee that sun or wave might not still maim. When sailing through Fresh Water, make sure to pack those suede shoes with a polyester vest. Only cinch the life jacket snugly, and hurl the preserver wide when Jake Marshall is on duty.

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