Slauson Malone 1


Jasper Marsalis pushes things forwards one step at a time, finds Arusa Qureshi

In his history with the New York avant-garde collective Standing on the Corner, Jasper Marsalis has been viewed as both a musical innovator and a multi-disciplinary artist. But as Slauson Malone 1, the musician has carved a space for himself in the landscape of post-rap, settling on an experimental, spaced-out and often fragmented approach, which when spliced together, produces a cohesive whole. His 2019 full-length A Quiet Farwell, 2016-2018 (Crater Speak), for example, was enigmatic in its stream-of-consciousness and cryptic sonics, but it was also a fine example of a coming together of his multifaceted influences and experiences, as well as his versatile approach to composition. New album EXCELSIOR, his debut for Warp Records, takes this one step further, combining layers of knowledge on genre and form with an openness that offers an unexpected level of intimacy.

Opener ‘The Weather’ is a slow-burning, stuttering start which builds and releases beautifully, vocals eventually joining in on this dynamic swell. The music crawls along, as if Slauson is taking careful, solo steps, with each successful step representing the closing of a phrase, before we pause and restart. This undulation is a repeated motif throughout, for example on ‘House Music’, where an accentuated beat gives the impression that the track will naturally expand in rhythm and tempo, but then this once again fades. It can be purposely eerie at times, the abstract instrumentation and low frequency vocals providing a ghostly quality, as on ‘Olde Joy’ or ‘New Joy’. The lo-fi rapping in the latter, coupled with the open, jangly guitar and steady beat, makes you feel as if you’re listening to three different songs in one, with each listen throwing up elements previously overlooked.

Elsewhere, there’s doom-like dissonance (‘Fission for Drums, Piano & Voice’), unanticipated sweetness (‘Arms, Armor’) and weird splashes of electronics (‘I Hear a New World’), but in each of these cases, the strength lies in how Slauson Malone 1 can so brilliantly construct expansive cinematic soundscapes, switching between surf-pop, barely audible whispered raps and atmospheric strings with ease. ‘Voyager’ is where this really shines, the track split into acts and punctuated by pauses, demonstrating a sense of inner turbulence. You get this in the contrast between the vocals and instrumentation too, highlighting the breadth of skill on display here, from ambient hip-hop to experimental indie-pop awash with looped guitars and synths.

EXCELSIOR is an album made up of varying sketches; a collection of personal essays that provide an insight into specific lived experiences. The title of the album itself is a reference to continuous growth, Slauson Malone 1 turning the lens on himself to allow a rare look into an ever-changing and mutating exploration of self. It’s purposely chaotic and skeletal in places, but when the disjointed pieces are viewed as one, you get an album that is a fascinating and hypnotic listen.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today