Marc Lowe is a composer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist musician (guitar/keyboards/drums) currently residing in Tokyo, Japan. He’s very much a self-made artist as he writes his own music, sings and performs all the instruments himself, as well as producing it autonomously. He also films and produces his own videos, making him very much the embodiment of the versatile, highly creative modern artist. For several years he has been extremely prolific, releasing a considerable plethora of singles, EPs and albums.
This latest album, Dark Planet, is his third of 2022 and Lowe has stated he sees it as an artistic conclusion to a trilogy consisting of the albums The Way Out Is In (read my review here), Infinity for Beginners and now this final part. Consisting of eight tracks, it is unusual for a Marc Lowe album in that it contains several cover versions. However, these songs, originally by IAMX and the late Jeff Buckley, are very much reimagined by Lowe in keeping with the album’s overall theme.
Essentially, this transpires to be a stage of emotional healing and resolution after experiencing a troubled and painful relationship. Although, as the title implies, this album is also a reflection of the world at large, the global zeitgeist, and it’s worth noting that Lowe also managed to find time for another release between these last two albums, Nobody Wins (Pray For Ukraine).
The album opens with the first of two versions of North Star (Dark Planet mix). Consisting of just acoustic guitar, Lowe’s vulnerable vocal and ambient atmospherics, Lowe very much makes this IAMX song his own. He paints a desolate sonic landscape of emotional numbness, perfectly mirroring the lyrics: “I want flesh to bring me happiness ’cause I feel nothing….I feel nothing”. Amongst the unsettling backdrop we hear Lowe intone, “Do you still love me?” and this moment becomes a touchstone for the album’s overall meaning.
For those already familiar with Lowe’s work, emotional experiences in the present are given context within the framework of Lowe’s spiritual outlook and philosophy which incorporates elements of Eastern religions such as Buddhism. And so, after the raw pain depicted by the album’s opener, Temporal States Of Being brings us from the micro to the macro, a recurring feature of Lowe’s art.
Originally written two years ago with a different arrangement it is mostly an instrumental track, starting with the sound of inhalation and exhalation, a reference to meditation. It develops into a mesmeric concoction of subtle interweaving percussive patterns and a steady synth drone, full of Eastern mystical mystery. Musically, it seems to reflect the Buddhist concept of transcending time and space, the necessary detachment from earthly expectations and desires, which in Buddhism is the root of all suffering. From this heightened perspective, a spoken word vocal from Lowe emerges: “One is what one is…”.
Third track You & I is another cover version, though a radical musical reimagining is perhaps a closer description. It is based on the version of the song from Jeff Buckley’s posthumously released Sketches For My Sweetheart, The Drunk. This unique version mostly consists of atmospherics combined with an extraordinarily emotive and intense vocal performance from Marc, who delivers a masterclass in controlled falsetto.
As the track unfolds, there is a gradual increase in tension, reaching fever pitch by the end. Tellingly, Lowe changes some of Buckley’s original lyrics, which strongly suggests this cover is a reflection of a personal relationship important to Lowe. “Silver eyes” becomes “misty eyes” and ends on the poignant question, “What is the truth of you and I?”
With the following (Please Have) Mercy, it becomes truly apparent that this album is about dealing with the aftermath of an intense love affair that has ended painfully. It is another reworking, this one of an IAMX song called Mercy. It feels the narrative natural successor to You & I, a stark depiction of heartbreak and emotional turmoil. Consisting of acoustic used both melodically and percussively (Lowe taps out recurring patterns on the body of his guitar, very effective) as well as another compelling lead vocal.
Here, Lowe again changes the original words to reflect his personal situation and so we find “submission” substituted with “suspicion”, “poetry” with “hypocrisy”. This paints a portrait of infidelity, confirmed by Lowe’s alterations to the spoken word section: “Were the lies from your lips just because you didn’t want me to realise? Was I the one you chose just to hurt me and fuck me up badly?”. The refrain, “did you fake it?” is stoked up to a torturous climax, gradually fading out to a bare whisper.
After such heartfelt and harrowing performances the spacious, mesmerising Inner States of Blind is the perfect contrast. Interestingly, it’s a track related to Inner States (of Mind), from The Sun Is Coming. Even more interestingly, that track was based on the You & I cover which Lowe decided not to release on the Sun Is Coming album. Starting out with just ambient atmospherics, Lowe’s Buddhism-inspired words float over the mix, intricate rhythms gradually emerging and then blossoming into a glorious beat.
Don’t Forget To Breathe (The Way In Is In) is another track that brings us full circle in the Lowe artistic universe. This one is a reworking of Unprecedented Times, the last track on The Sun Is Coming. This is interspersed with parts of The Way Out Is In, from the album of the same name.
These tracks seem to reflect a stage of emotional healing and recovery from emotional pain, through the soul development attained by Eastern spiritual philosophies such as Buddhism, a journey from conscious emotional pain into the still, subconscious realms attained through meditation and contemplation.
But then we resurface back to the conscious world and having to confront emotional wounds once more. With Tears Cried, this is a track that relates to Tear Garden (Praying For Me), from The Way Out Is In. Set to haunting, deeply moving piano, Lowe has stated it’s on one level a compassionate response to the situation in Ukraine. This changing focus from the personal to the suffering of others is the heart of Buddhist thought, namely compassion.
The album concludes with an acoustic version of North Star that, again, feels like the completion of an emotional transformation yet with pain still ever present. It’s also fiercely honest, with subtle lyrical changes from the original: “I’ve seen bad things” becomes, “I’ve done bad things”. This level of artistic honesty would feel too vulnerable for most artists, yet Lowe is a fearless explorer of the human soul.
Overall, Dark Planet is another fascinating sonic and spiritual journey, Marc Lowe combining his own compositions with unique reinterpretations of other artists’ music to great effect. It’s a powerful and painfully emotive work, depicting the dark states of mind following heartbreak, but also the transcendence of ephemeral emotion to attain a semblance of inner peace. Besides the personal aspects, Dark Planet is also a sensitive artist’s intuitive response to the global situation we find ourselves in and another step in Lowe’s impressive artistic progression.
VERDICT = 8.8 out of 10
Dark Planet was released on May 15th 2022 and is now available via all major streaming services (Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube & Amazon Music, and more).
Alex, thank you for the wonderfully insightful review, once again, and for taking so much time to thoroughly research all of the connections between various threads that might not be readily obvious at first. Your time and dedication are much appreciated. 🙏🏻