The sugary-pink and distinctively Aotearoan artwork for Marshmellow ’s ‘Secrets Of The Universe’ somehow keeps making me think of the dripping ice creams of youthful Kiwi summers. Perhaps that subconscious image is deliberate since much like the best cone ice creams, this album is a combo of differently flavoured layers, the tastes (genres) and textures (moods) shifting with each successive mouthful.
Marshmellow is in fact Auckland music producer Marshall Smith, an advertising music and doco soundtrack specialist with credits found on some major international networks such as BBC, Discovery etc. Just last year Smith released another 13-track album called ‘The Feels’ that notably included input from Kings (Golden Boy) alongside other musicians. While it seems this one is more all his own doing, the instrumental backings vary from the bright horns that front the album’s title track, to piano, drum machine rhythms, standard guitar band, acoustic, various synth sounds, strings etc.
If You Only Live Once reinforces the suspicion (initialised with the title track) that Smith is a fan of Lloyd Cole, particularly that English singer-songwriter’s gentle vocal delivery. His voice is good across a broad range, but rarely used in a way that would have it described as strong. It mostly rides along with the arrangement, pushed to stand out only on rare occasions, which is maybe a shame in terms of overall impact. The tempo gets turned up for ‘90s-feel synth dance tracks like the spacious Dogs of Brazil, the pulsing Frequency of Love, and the drum machine-led repetition of Playing Around In My Head – lyrically a prime candidate for soundtrack use – and gets pulled back for the introspective likes of Faded Blue T-Shirt, a measured alt-pop number, and lament Out There, just backed with sparse piano and moody strings.
There are 13 three-minute-something songs here, really too many for a digital album, but easily understandable given Smith’s role as a producer of music for screen use. The weaker tracks reinforce a nagging sense that ‘Secrets Of The Universe’ is a more vehicle for marketing his songs for use by others, and if so, why not? Equally, perhaps when writing music to a brief daily there are ideas left over that demand being made into songs, and he clearly has plenty of lyrical inspiration to go with his evident and diverse musical creativity.