Marc Gartman – All’s Well That Ends

Marc Gartman
All’s Well That Ends

For someone that truly appreciates the artist that never allows you to predict his or her next creative venture, Marc Gartman is becoming a truly fascinating study. From the stark singer/songwriter tones and aching honesty of 2000’s City of Glass to last year’s collaboration with Casey Block that produced an album of strangely moving impressionistic soundscapes entitled Each New Nostalgic Moment, Gartman has shown an impressive unwillingness to repeat himself. Add in the fact that he has spent a considerable amount of his time traveling around the country filming a documentary on slow-core pioneers Low, as well as contributing musically to their latest album, and he becomes an even more enigmatic figure. One thing seems obvious, when Marc Gartman wants to follow his muse into unfamiliar territory he just closes his eyes and goes for it.
Without a guitar to be found, Gartman puts on the garb of the piano balladeer for All’s Well That Ends, and it fits surprisingly well. Lending his music an even deeper fragility, with his vocals coming across all the more solemnly and his lyrics gaining an even greater surreal mysteriousness, the album presents both a tuneful accessibility and a dour obscurity. Further, the convergence of pensive piano pieces and a jazzy background din of trumpets, clarinets, tenor saxophones, and upright basses yields a quality that is both impressionistic and slightly cabaret-esque in its more Tom Waits-ish qualities. As such, it’s not hard to find an Eastern European feel in the arrangements of tracks like “Marquis De Sade,” which do well to match both the Russian immigrant motif of the album artwork and the displaced mournfulness of the lyrics.
Amazingly, even as Gartman experiments with different textures and slightly varying moods with each release, the core aesthetic of his work remains unchanged. An exhausting weariness saturates his songwriting, bleeding through even the detached aura in his arrangements and the indefinable elements in his lyricism. His gift for melody survives intact, as well, resulting in some of his strongest hooks to date, whether carried by a vocal line in “Rosemary” or by the piano in the lovely opening “100 Days of Fire Part 1.” Still, despite the occasional aberration like the upbeat “Aura Lee,” most of the album is steeped in a nearly unspeakable sadness, whether inhabiting the slightly epic feel of “Sandra Bernhardt” or the stolid repetition of “Baltimore.”
Overall, given his previous body of work, this probably wouldn’t be the album you’d expect at this stage in his career. For an artist whose every project feels like a departure from the last, he has proven himself incredibly capable of making himself at home in just about whatever musical context he chooses. So far, that willingness has resulted in a series of albums heavy with uncommon melodic grace and darkly poignant renderings of our humanity. And while you could grow broke trying to predict his next step, it’s undeniable that each movement is ultimately a forward one for Marc Gartman.