Chris Marks is Lake Michigan and he’s been making music under that moniker for quite some time now. You can trace it all the way back to when he was a callow youth in highschool, strumming away in a bedroom in York. The album, Further is being billed as Lake Michigan’s ‘debut studio record’, which may be literally true, but it belies the richness of a musicianship that’s been developing, slowly, quietly, for quite some time. There’s also a wealth of experience garnered from living at life’s sharp end, delivered with an unexpected clarity.
One of the more interesting things about the full-length is that you don’t just hear where Marks is at, but everywhere he’s come from too. At one extreme you’ve got the DIY bedroom strummer with that slow gravel-slide of a voice and tape hissing, at the other you get all the nice studio layering, soothing backing vocalists and sweet string sections. Sometimes the juxtaposition is an easy one, neatly braided together. At other times it clashes violently, like in the song Vampire, where Marks’ dragging vocal and simple, acoustic accompaniment suddenly collides with backing vocals and the rest of the band. It’s not an unintentional effect, in fact it seems quite calculated and the interplay is craftily managed across the record.
From the studio highlights to the DIY gutters there’s quite a lot to Further, but the centerpiece is always Marks’ voice. It’s a deep voice, but he pitches much lower than it should really go and as a consequence it rumbles through vocal fry in a sung-spoken mumble. It could be the love child of Leonard Cohen and Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum and it’s certainly an acquired taste, but a surprisingly addictive one once you acquire it.
In terms of style, Marks’ has long been informed by weird experimenters like The Microphones but with an emphasis on the more considered end of emo: bands like Joan Of Arc and former member Mike Kinsella and his numerous projects. Every now and then on Further, you’ll hear a growing, post-rock roar, which is a more recent affectation for Marks and -to be honest- a potentially less interesting one, but here it gives the acoustic folk-rock an unlooked for breadth and power.
The lyrics, grumbled away down there, are as emo as being kicked out of your share house at night and freezing to death in a park, but they convey the life of a grass-roots muso in vignettes possessed of a simplicity, reality and economy. There’s a deal of tragedy, but Marks finds the poetry in it, rather than simply being rending. Yeah, he has a real gift for lyrics.
Studio albums and international releases notwithstanding, Chris Marks has the kind of DIY feel that makes you surprised to hear him all the way down here in Australia. We might not have, but he’s as footloose as Woody Guthrie and recently trekked across our Southern expanse, putting out splits with locals like Virginia Sook and forging lasting bonds.
At the risk of contradicting myself there’s also a universality in his music, at least for anyone who’s done time at the bottom of the pile (so, most musicians). Chris Marks’ captures it with a poignancy and power that reaches across the world and should touch many.
– Chris Cobcroft.