Marian Hill Brings Listeners Into New Sonic Textures with New Album, why can’t we just pretend?
Marian Hill is a duo with a sound that is hard to pinpoint into one specific genre. Hailing from Philadelphia and consisting of singer Samantha Gongol and producer Jeremy Lloyd, the duo’s unique sound combines sparse, minimal electronic beats with seductive vocals – often chopped up and manipulated – along with sultry saxophone appearances. The duo released their debut EP, Play, in 2013 then two years later released Sway, an expanded collection of songs officially released through Photo Finish and Republic Records. Their debut album, ACT ONE, arrived in 2016 and brought the spotlight of virality onto the duo once again. Their sophomore album, Unusual, followed in 2018 and solidified the duo as a singular voice in modern pop, garnering various tastemaker approvals.
Their new album, and first since 2018, almost didn’t happen. Before the pandemic, Sam and Jeremy had gotten so exhausted and jaded that, for a moment, they felt like they might walk away. Then the world ended. And for the first time in eight years, they were apart. In those lost months, they remembered how much Marian Hill meant to them, and meant to all their fans over the years. How the connection they found through their music was literally magic. And they knew they needed to finish this record. And we’re oh so glad that why can’t we just pretend? did make it out into the world for all of us to hear.
why can’t we just pretend? is a 12-song track that explores themes of rocky relationships, yearning, seduction, and nostalgia, particularly for easier times. Harnessing the unique sound that the duo has polished over the past near-decade, the album nearly transports listeners into an old-time jazz-club feeling with sultry vocals filtering through the smoky air. Yet the atmosphere is not entirely that. Mixing in its electronic leanings, the album evokes a sensation of being caught in between two different millennia, then adding in a layer of thematic relatability – there’s a lot to unpack from this work and it’s best done with earbuds to experience the full benefit of the boosted production.
Sweetly sentimental tones fill the soundscape of the opening track, “remember me,” which features saxophone from Steve Davit, who makes an appearance on several other tracks in the album. While soft piano and vocals take the forefront, listeners are quickly hit with high-hat and deep basslines. The lyrics take a look into what could have been but an acknowledgment of what is no longer – a yearning for past times with a desire for a different future.
While “remember me” may have given listeners a glimpse into the nostalgia that trickles through the album, the following four tracks all hinge on seduction and temptation. “omg,” “visions of you,” previously released “oOo that’s my type” featuring Baby Tate, and “SPINNIN” featuring Kemba and Steve Davit shift the atmosphere into one that is more suited for a fun night out on town. Even with the R&B and hip-hop energy infused into these tracks, which is very different from the opening track, some of the lyrics tip-toe on the line of yearning we heard in “remember me.”
A return to softer soundscapes is ushered in with “little bit,” a tender expression of how it feels to see a past relationship after some time has passed. An additional verse from GASHI revisits the downfall of a relationship and the main vocal hook reassures listeners that the wistful feelings of heartbreak are indeed apparent.
The album returns to the hip-hop realm, but with more experimental electronic elements, leaning more towards trip-hop influences. Deep vocal edits flutter through the bass-heavy production in “simple,” which further focuses on the theme of rocky relationships, particularly the dissolution of trust and the difficulty of walking away. Tangent production is heard throughout “that’s not me,” which focuses more on the loss of self. While “trippin out” takes a slower approach than some of the previous songs, distorted backing vocals are still dispersed behind the primary vocals, continuing the focus on rocky relationships. The deep bass beats continue through “you’re invited,” which now features more prominent saxophone moments from Steve Davit. It has a more playful tone, both through its lyrics and production, leaning back into the realm of temptation.
A desire to return to earlier and easier times sweeps through “pretend (2003),” featuring Tennyson. The soundscape is smoother and calmer than the past few songs, feeding into the sense of nostalgia that drips from the honey-laced vocals. While there are relatable topics explored in all of the other songs, for me personally, “pretend (2003)” carries a special meaning, especially after all that has happened over the past 2 1/2 years in the world – so much has changed, and so many times I’ve found myself wishing things could be easier, or the “way they used to be.”
To close out the album, “it never ends” ties back to many of the themes from throughout the other tracks. The lyrics focus on a possible, though unrealistic, future – a hope for something different. The production is bubblier, ending the album on a brighter note.
why can’t we just pretend? is a unique sampling of different soundscapes, giving listeners not only a sonic taste of everything that Marian Hill has come to work on over their journey together, but also an exploration of different facets of humanity and emotion. Listen to the entire album below and you can also catch the duo live across the United States starting in July! Tour stops and tickets available at https://www.marianhillmusic.com/.