Tuesday, August 14, 2007

“Simple Pleasures and Grand Designs: A Review of Marble Tea’s Fantastic Day”

The Marble Tea is Knight Berman, Jr., Jersey shore musician and songwriter. You can
read all about Knight—his background, former bands, etc., in my first piece on his music,
“No Boy Wonder,” where I reviewed his I’m Batman EP in 2005.

Knight constructs ear catching and damned near perfect “3-minute pop songs” (the title
and subject of one of his songs, available on the Hoga-rama disc you can get free by
purchasing I’m Batman), creating 15-minute EPs that take the listener on a whirlwind
journey through a number of styles, moods, and philosophical concerns. As he says on
his website, www.marbletea.com (a very groovy site where you can get downloads,
purchase cool stuff, and read Knight’s prosic ruminations), he “continues to examine the
underlying connection between life's smallest things and the grander design behind it all
through an unpretentious brand of indie pop.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

The first song on Fantastic Day, the title track, picks up where I’m Batman left off,
offering up a feel-good commentary on life’s simple pleasures—a positive trip that made
I’m Batman such a hit with listeners and reviewers alike (he sings to the kids on the
corner: “I don’t need Sega-vision or Time Warner.” Amen.). Featuring Jeff Booth on
bass, “Fantastic Day” hints at the musical layering to come on the rest of the EP, with fun
piano and harmonics filling out a solid rhythm guitar foundation and a sun-shiny beat.

Simple pleasures for the moment addressed, Knight offers up a little of his take on the
grand design in a mysterious tune called “Mercury.” Beginning with a hi-hat and a
“Theme from Peter Gunn”-esque guitar riff, the song questions the nature of reality and
the shared and individual perceptions of the people weaving in and out of his life as he
stands “outside the Mercury Lounge having a smoke with [his] good friend Mau.” The
song evokes a series of dark and vivid images, including a phone ringing in the
background during a quiet moment—is it intentional? A happy accident? Not knowing is
the point and more than half the fun. The song features some cool guitar effects that show
off Knight’s musicianship while reinforcing the mystery of the Mercury.

Moving from the surreal to the very real, Knight takes us to the crossroads, where his
“digital lo-fi” indie pop meets cautionary tale. Knight, a wordsmith extraordinaire in all
of his songs, comes on especially strong lyrically in “How Does It Feel?” giving us the
stereotypical love-em-and-leave-em type reconstituted as a “cunning Conquistador” who
puts “nicks on his shield” and a “starving Henry VIII” who uses “sex as a meal.” To the
target of the fox’s affections, he says: “Of course you think you’re something more, but
you’re not. You’re not.” Sure, it all seems like fun, but “What does he tell his friends
when he’s slipped from your bedroom, baby?” Knight’s musicianship is now hitting full
tilt, with a fun guitar solo that takes the song into a transitional acoustic guitar segment
with an unsettling little twist. Over and over we hear the lyric: “You’re Natalie Wood and
you died tonight,” evoking images of the tragic end of a Hollywood starlet caught in a
world of unreality and false affection she ultimately couldn’t control.

“There’s a Girl I Know” is something completely new from Knight—a keyboard-based
song. Clocking in at 2 and a half minutes, the song features Brian Eno–influenced sounds
and a subtle echo on the vocals that gives the song a haunting feel that extends out nicely
from the tragic tone at the end of “How Does It Feel?” I hope that Knight continues to
experiment with the keyboard on future discs.

Fantastic Day ends with a wonderful 3-chord tune called “Say Goodbye” about how a
move from the South to the North might affect his cat. There are some beautiful and
thought-provoking vocal lines in this song (including our first clue that it’s a cat, to which
he sings “smooth down your hair”). He talks about the “tree neighborhood,” and saying
goodbye to “Danish cookie breakfast” and the “red bordello hallway.” We hear the sound
of a door opening and a few lines later Knight sings: “your little room-world disappears.”
To demonstrate the disconnect and disarray that comes with such a move, Knight puts in
a discordant interlude that would make George Martin and the Beatles proud. “Say
Goodbye” for all its poetry and elegance also offers one of the most enigmatic lines to
come from the EP. Speaking of the closet, Knight sings: “It’s dark and the clothes smell
like inside your head.” We talked a little bit about it at Knight’s home and at the class-A
used book store in Pt. Pleasant Beach, NJ, the Book Bin, which he helps to run and I can
only say that the line is what you make of it, which is of course the best answer of all.

Before letting you run off to purchase Fantastic Day, I have to mention the free EP that
you get with your purchase—Slave to the Tuna. I don’t want to give anything away by
talking about each song individually (although there is plenty to be said). Instead, I’ll just
let you know that these 5 songs are just about my favorites that I’ve heard from Knight.
In a bit under 15 minutes he covers: dreams (including one involving SNL’s Amy
Pohler), memories, the bittersweet and beautiful mix of love and snow, a hip little thrift
store, and the value of life, both small and great, bringing us back to Knight’s musical
and overall life thesis: life is a mix of both the simple and complex, the sub-atomic and
universal, the child-like and mature, the angels and the imps.

Lucky for us, we get to hear terrific music while Knight’s sorting it all out.

Be sure to check out Knight’s My Space page at: http://www.myspace.com/marbletea

March 2007.

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