A dilapidated old cinema in Auckland, heavy on atmosphere and light on TLC in years past, was the perfect place for my live introduction to Marlon Williams. The venue suited the “New Zealand gothic” aura projected by the best of his songs … Strange things happen in small, solitary country towns, and the weight of history looms large.
Into this time capsule strode a young man, alone, soberly dressed in a military-styled shirt and nondescript dark pants and boots, who opened with a jaw-dropping rendition of Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”: simple and utterly spellbinding. One song … and people stood, and applauded. I’ve seen little like it.
The 25-year-old roots-rocker has the spook of a young Nick Cave and a falsetto to rival Antony Hegarty, and it’s North America’s turn to be charmed by him. His excellent eponymous debut album will be released on Feb. 19 via Dead Oceans, and I can only level one criticism at it — it plays like an anthology. It has such a broad selection of styles that I’m already agog to see the path he will follow, because a talent like this doesn’t come along too often, and he could do anything. But he’s best when he gets dark, and he gets down in the ditch, plumbs the depths of the human psyche and brings his twisted little fantasies to life. His North American tour features a full band, the four-piece Marlon Williams & the Yarra Benders, and hits L.A. next week.
||| Stream: “Strange Things” and “Hello Miss Lonesome”
||| Also: Watch the video for “Strange Things”
||| Live: Marlon Williams plays the Bootleg Theater on Feb. 3.