Sydney’s Marcus Whale is naked on the cover of his debut solo album Inland Sea, standing in front of a dark background and restricted by ghostly hands and shackles. It’s a striking image, and a perfect first glance at the musician’s most candid, intimate and primal work to date.
Whale is best known for his work in Collarbones, Black Vanilla and Tennis Boys, but Inland Sea is darker than even Black Vanilla’s darkest corners. Co-produced and mixed by HTRK’s Nigel Lee-Yang, the album is abstract, cinematic and full of captivating textures which blend electronics, strings and brass with Whale’s complex tales of queer experience.
Whale calls Inland Sea a “convergence” of his pop, experimental, contemporary classical and dance sensibilities — and that’s exactly what it is — but it’s also a space for brooding and reflecting, with little time for cutting loose compared to his other projects.
The drones, beeps, industrial percussion and trudging horns of Arcadia, for example, create a solemn landscape in the vein of English experimentalists These New Puritans, while drones interweave with marching drums on the dramatic cut Vulnerable.
The album’s lead single My Captain is its loosest track, and features a stunning percussive breakdown which is perfect for the darkest of dance-floors. It’s far and above the most euphoric moment on Inland Sea, which tends to remain pretty measured as it tackles various uncertainties surrounding identity and history.
“Making the album was like trying to answer all of the questions I’ve ever asked myself about who I am, and, crucially for this album’s concept, where I live,” Whale says, alluding to Australia’s colonial past, which he says was “founded on the operation of extreme, male-dominated hierarchy, an ever-expanding narrative of the white man against the wild”.
For Whale, the “inland sea”, then, is a utopian place for the queer and the dispossessed. It’s a place where, as he sings across all of Inland Sea, the white man is buried, where love heals and where bodies dissolve “like vapours in the sea”.
Back in November 2015, Whale shared his auspicious debut solo single If (Demo), which unfortunately doesn’t appear on Inland Sea. It’s a more accessible track than many of the cuts on this album, and while its inclusion might have kept the record a little looser, some seriously impressive production work has gone into Whale’s 10 new songs.
Inland Sea’s melding of synthetic and natural sounds amplifies the tension held in its lyrics, which speak of race, gender, sexuality and heritage. The album is an exploration of how colonialism puts its stamp on bodies, not just minds. But, as Whale says, it’s also an exploration of a new future, “A future beyond the colony.”
‘Inland Sea’ is out now. Marcus Whale plays album launch shows in Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne beginning 23rd June.
Watch: Marcus Whale – My Captain