Marla Mase – Half Life EP Review

The eccentric and always surprising writer/performer/producer/singer/songwriter from New York City, Marla Mase, is about to release her new EP, Half Life. Just one year after her last full-length release Speak Deluxe, Marla has now signed with True Groove Records and, along with her label mates, signed a worldwide major distribution deal with The Orchard. Her new EP Half Life is due out February 25 2014. At once confrontational and completely vulnerable, the EP’s name is best explained in a quote by Junot Diaz, “The half-life of love is forever”.

Marla Mase said of the EP: “I wanted to go back to the personal. They say you can find the universal in the personal.” Half Life is streaming in full now on bandcamp ahead of its release later this month.

Marla is known for her provocative, raw performance style and intelligent lyrics. Her music ranges from rock n’ roll to experimental spoken word, funk and punk rock. She is backed by the Tomás Doncker Band. The Huffington Post featured her in 2013, saying “…her feisty message of peace and perhaps wake up the beast in all of us.”

Speak Deluxe was a 16 track CD containing human rights and feminist perspectives on tracks like Piece of Peace, Lioness, Scream and AnnaRexia, a reggae track featuring Garrison Hawk from Bill Laswell’s Method of Defiance. AnnaRexia is spearheading the StayImperfect Project or Love Your Butt Campaign, which Marla created to empower women to love themselves and their bodies. Proceeds from AnnaRexia go towards theprojectheal.org, a non-profit founded by two teenage eating disorder survivors, that raises funds for girls whose families cannot afford to send them to treatment.

Mase also developed The Speak Show, a multi-media concert/performance piece using music (from Speak Deluxe), spoken word, dance and visual imagery to explore the themes of confinement, sexuality, body image, trauma, oppression (internal/external) and freedom as a means of celebrating the raw reality of our human condition as expressed through the eyes, bodies, voices of women. It was booked twice for NYC Summerstage 2013 alongside major acts such as The Zombies, Dead Prez and Django Django.

Marla has her MA in writing and performance from NYU and is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Most importantly Marla is the mother to two beautiful souls.

So with all this experience of life, it seems strange how she’s chosen to call her latest EP, Half Life. But this EP is more than half full.

Track one Drown In Blue from the first note sounds like a Patti Smith track. The guitar and drums accompanied by Mase’s vocals “I’m on the move” is automatically Smith-esque, especially in regards to the vocals. Mase uses her voice in this track very effectively. The lyrics “I’m on the move” are sung in such a way as to demonstrate the angst and uncertainty Mase is feeling. Something is gaining on her and her vocals reflect the emotions attached to being chased by something whether it’s regret, fear or thought. The lyrics continue, “Got to keep busy/Or I’ll lose my mind/Walk fast/Talk fast/Work fast/Think fast” demonstrating this need to be constantly moving, to create distance between that regret, fear or thought.

Title track Half Life steps away from the rock influences and introduces Mase’s soul and funk influences. It’s a gentle track which sees Mase’s vocals transform from angry to seductive, soft and sensual. Half Life features a saxophone solo half way through which helps to enhance the soul and funk feel of this song which in turn aids the sensual meaning behind the lyrics. The spoken word, “I’m a practical woman/And I get what I want/I’m a practical woman/Who believes in magic, who insists on it/Not just in the night time but all the time/And not just with you/In everything I do” captures the essence of this track – a song about intimacy and love. It’s surprisingly different from the rest of the songs on the EP showing a much more relaxed and gentle side to the otherwise known as crazy and, as she herself has said, schizophrenic Marla. It’s probably the most enjoyable track on Half Life.

The Heart Beats sees country and blues influences seep into the EP. The Heart Beats is pure poetry – Marla discusses the need for humans to feel connected to and loved by one another. The track sees her talk about the heart as a body organ pumping blood around the body as much as it sees her talking about the spiritual heart of opening up to one another, accepting and belonging: “There are six billion people in the world, two billion of them are children…Each beating a hundred thousand times a day/Electrical circuits/Coexisting/Cohabiting/Co-joining/And the beats/They merge/They mingle/They seek out other beats/Yes the beat is always looking for itself/To be in rhythm/To be in sync/To be one/It’s our global soul calling…It has been said that love always finds its object and never stops until it does so/It has also been said that love is an act of freedom/Emancipating not ourselves but the other/Yes the beat is always looking for itself.” Mase ends the track with this single line: “We’re all in this dance together” summing up the idea behind this beautiful piece of poetry. The Heart Beats gets you thinking about the wider world and how many people there are all with their hearts beating at the same time. All those people in the world all living and breathing together. It’s a track that shows how it’s our hearts that bond us together in relationships, passions and in everything we do.

Gaping Hole brings a  light-hearted blues feel to the EP. It has pleasant uplifting melodies after a heavily philosophical track like The Heart Beats. It’s a brilliant track with  70s influences being easily heard.

The Half Life EP sees a reprise of first track Drown In Blue. The reprise version of Drown In Blue sees Mase sing backed by some blues acoustic guitar. It’s calming and preferable to the original version.

Hold Fast Your Dreams ends the EP and is a gentle and inspiring song to end the EP on. Hold Fast Your Dreams is jazzy and almost like elevator music. Mase’s vocals are airy and refreshing as she sings, “Hold fast your dreams/Within your heart/And keep them safe/In your world apart/With wishes that/Have not come true/Let hope and magic work for you/Hold fast your dreams” before she goes into spoken word. Another piece of beautiful poetry, “You see with one eye/Life was exactly as it was explained to her/But with the other/She saw into, through, above their world…” Mase’s spoken word on Hold Fast Your Dreams is so similar to Patti Smith, it’s a real struggle to differentiate between the two.

Marla Mase has outdone herself with this EP release. Although Speak shone, the Half Life EP shines ten thousand times brighter. The Half Life EP will be released on February 25 2014.

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