Marlin’s Dreaming hail from Dunedin, New Zealand, literally a world away from where I sit in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. And yet, the very first lyric of their new album, Quotidian, sees frontman Semisi Maiai sing ‘I’ve been stuck inside for awhile now.’ And right there, we have the anthem for Covid-19. I’ve been into them for a few years now, ever since their first long-player, Lizard Tears came out in 2017. They met at a surf shop in Dunedin, where Maiai worked back in 2017, when he was all of 17, and almost immediately, they got to work on Lizard Tears, which came out that October. Aside from Maiai on vocals and guitar, Oscar Johns plays bass, Hamish Merchant plays the drums, and Leith Towers plays lead guitar. That first album was helped out by a few heavyweights of the Kiwi music scene, as Justyn Pilbrow of The Neighbourhood produced, and Jeff Ellis of SWMRS mixed.
Armed with this kind of backing, Marlin’s Dreaming was always going to be successful in New Zealand, but, of course, they branched out, and have a global following now. Quotidian is their second long-player, coming on the heels of 2018’s ep Talk On/Commic. It’s a bit grittier than their earlier music, which to me always took the best of MGMT and ran with it to create memorable, beautiful laid back music.
‘Cabbage Tree,’ that opening track begins with a gentle beat from Merchant, and shimmier guitars over an insistent bass as Maiai’s laidback vocals float over the track before the track opens up, the drums pick up and the guitars of Maiai and Towers glide effortlessly over the track.
Throughout the album, Maiai’s lyrics trip the careful balance between a gritty optimism and a bored, groaning apathy about the world around us. Marlin’s Dreaming want a different world, and, really, who could question that? They don’t get caught in any single sound, though their music is all of a piece.
‘Outwards Crying,’ the second single, sees Maiai tell us ‘I’m leaving this town for a second/Or even just a day’ as the drums provide a louder backbeat and Maiai and Towers’ guitars vie with each other, gliding, shining over Johns’ insistent and warm basslines.
‘Sink or Swim’ is the first single, which sees a straight ahead beat power towering, shimmy guitars, which then give way to a chugging bass and Maiai’s vocals before the loud/quiet formula (which, for the record, I have no problem with) slowly builds up to the chorus. This is catchy music.
I’m a big fan of ‘Lick the Brains,’ which begins with an almost lounge-ish soft guitar riff before the song settles into a gentle grove over a chugging rhythm section as Maiai sings. Towers’ lead, which appears on the scene around a minute in is this wicked, subversive little riff. And then the song bursts into a loud/quiet mode around 1.30, as the lads step on their distortion pedals. Taken altogether, this is a beautiful track.
Drummers don’t usually get their due, unless they’re John Bonham or Ringo Starr or Keith Moon. But Merchant deserves a lot of credit for Marlin’s Dreaming’s sound, as his drums are both insistent and powerful. He drives the beat without overtaking it (like a Bonham or a Moon), and he leaves this space for the rest of the lads to build a song. Sometimes the drummer makes the band. I always think of what happened to the Dead Kennedys when D.H. Peligro took over the drum stool from their original drummer, Ted. All of the sudden, the DKs could do so much more, construct more elaborate tracks, all because they had one of the most powerful and original drummers in hardcore. The same happened with The Cure when, finally, Robert Smith could take no more of Lol Tolhurst’s limited abilities and brought in Boris Anderson for The Head on the Door, and all of the sudden The Cure’s sound exploded out of the gates, the songs became more elaborate, the chord progressions were more complex. Due thanks to Hamish Merchant, Marlin’s Dreaming will never have that problem.
‘Outristic’ is actually two songs, Parts 1 and 2. Part 1 starts off in the quiet mode, as Maiai’s guitar provides a riff over which Towers skitters. This is one of the mellowest, prettiest tracks on the album, and it’s easy to imagine lying under the warm New Zealand sun, watching the surfers on the beach, with a nice, cold one in hand. And then, at the end of Part 1, the song dissolves into feedback and a sampled voice that sounds somewhat like John Lydon, and then Part 2 starts with an insistent, slow-burn of a guitar riff as Merchant’s drums slowly explode onto the scene and the guitars begin to duel over and insistent bass. And then Towers’ lead begins to soar over the track. Maiai’s vocals are always laid back, always chill, and it is right here, in this song, that the promise of Marlin’s Dreaming is fulfilled in the towering guitars, creating this shoegazer wall of sound and his buried vocals.
Altogether, with Quotidian, Marlin’s Dreaming has delivered a towering sophomore album.