ALBUM REVIEW: The Way Out Is In by Marc Lowe

Marc Lowe is a composer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist musician (guitar/keyboards/drums) currently residing in Tokyo, Japan. His musical journey began studying classical music in the second grade, specifically Mozart, via the clarinet. A growing interest in progressive rock led him to the drums and a teenage obsession with David Bowie then led to studying operatic vocals in college. After two years playing in bands, he realised he preferred making music on his own. He developed into a composer writing in numerous styles and genres, from acoustic ballads to industrial rock, as well as ambient soundscapes that can range in duration up to twenty minutes. For several years he has been extremely prolific, releasing a considerable plethora of singles, EPs and albums.

This latest album, The Way Out Is In, consists of five tracks, some of which are epic in length. In order to approach the album with the right mindset, an understanding of Marc Lowe’s unique compositional methods on this particular album is of paramount importance. Perhaps the most notable influence on Lowe as an artist is David Bowie, specifically the more introspective, avant garde work he did such as the Berlin trilogy of the 70’s and the final album before his passing, Blackstar (indeed, Lowe covered this album in its entirety in 2020, titled I’m A Blackstar). Like Bowie, Lowe is also influenced by Eastern religious philosophies, specifically Buddhism, and this manifests itself throughout the album.

It could be described as a meditative exploration of the self, a spiritual inner journey that is perfectly encapsulated by the powerful title. The title track appears in two guises at the beginning and the end, the first with vocals and the latter purely instrumental. The music is built around improvisations, firstly guitar and then a vocal improvisation on top in the case of the first version which opens the album. This method could be called “stream of consciousness”, which is one method Bowie used to write lyrics (such as the cut up technique he borrowed from William Burroughs), and this approach is perfectly suited to the esoteric, introspective nature of the themes explored.

Starting out with just spoken word, a low guitar note drenched in cavernous reverb immediately sets a contemplative vibe, sparse plucked guitar notes interspersed with percussive sounds generated by Lowe wrapping and clacking his knuckles on his acoustic guitar, which is extremely effective. Lowe’s vocals are similarly a mixture of spoken word and a very melodic, almost operatic style. The words match the mystical sound of the music in a perfect symmetry, Lowe encouraging the listener to look within instead of out for the answers and guidance that we all seek.

From a production aspect, Lowe makes skilful and highly creative use of sound effects, once again cleverly combining the traditional with the technological. “One finds a space inside, one finds a place inside” is an effective, mesmeric mantra that helps bring the listener into the meditative state of mind which Lowe seeks to inspire. His words are full of spiritual wisdom and ideas relating to Buddhism, the music ebbing and flowing, sometimes reaching moments of intensity which are thrilling. Utterly original and unique, this intoxicating soundscape is a fascinating sonic exploration of the subconscious, married to stream of consciousness lyrics which constitute a wild and wonderful poetry that brought to mind Van Morrison’s classic Astral Weeks.

The second track Omicron brings us back to Earth in terms of subject matter, an artistic reaction to the current predominant variant of the SARS COV2 virus which has changed all our lives since its emergence in 2020. Lowe has stated that Omicron is, in a way, a sequel to his composition Covid from 2020. It is the album’s real epic at seventeen minutes long and is purely instrumental. Reflecting the fact that the Omicron variant is less virulent than previous variants, it is less dramatic than Covid, yet still has an unsettling quality that made me think of David Lynch’s Eraserhead, an avant garde film with an equally avant garde soundtrack.

It’s a very interesting track as an artistic reaction to something very physical that has changed the world on a global basis, full of eerie synths and musique concrete sounds. Listening with headphones, in particular, the soundscape created transports the listener outside of time and space into an ethereal realm. The way the intensity gradually increases across the track’s duration is skilfully done, with all manner of striking, otherworldly sounds emerging towards the end.

Forget The Past is almost as long at fifteen minutes, another track consisting of just vocal and haunting acoustic guitar. Lowe’s vocals are very intimate and expressive here, his lyrics openly honest and confessional. Essentially the track is about accepting the vicissitudes of life, letting go of your troubles and leaving the past behind. In a spoken word section he refers to William Faulkner’s line from Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”. Lowe rejects this idea in favour of living in the moment, the eternal Now, another key Buddhist concept. Another remarkable piece of music which is a huge journey in itself, ending in the refrain “chaos is driving me mad” then fading out to the sound of chanting monks.

The fourth track Tear Garden (Praying For Me) is a radical reinterpretation of a song by IAMX, an offshoot project from Chris Corner (of Sneaker Pimps fame). Making it entirely his own, Lowe takes the propulsive, tribal tom patterns of the original and reimagines the song stripped back to just vocal and piano. This allows the haunting vocal melody and words to shine, his classical influence emerging in the Moonlight Sonata-esque vibe of his piano playing approach.

The album concludes with an instrumental version of the title track, which allows the melodic and percussive nuances of the guitar playing to be fully appreciated. Perhaps knowingly, it brings the spiritual journey of the album full circle, aptly reflecting the cycle of death and rebirth which lies at the heart of Buddhist philosophy. As an instrumental, it has a transcendental quality that sets it apart from the version which opens the album and is a satisfying, apposite conclusion to an epic inner odyssey.

Overall, The Way Out Is In is a truly original piece of work by a unique artist who has forged a style and compositional technique all of his own. Both musically and lyrically, the album is like nothing else I’ve personally heard and yet has a broad appeal for those with open minds who are seeking new musical vistas to explore. For true art aficionados, especially those on the spiritual path, I heartily recommend that you take the time to explore The Way Out Is In, as well as the other work of Marc Lowe, and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves.

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

Visit the official website of Marc Lowe HERE

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