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Album of the Month: 'Marble Mouth' by Pillar Point

Marble Mouth
Pillar Point
Polyvinyl

The fear of commitment that arises in the face of limitless options—psychologist Barry Schwartz calls it “the Paradox of Choice” in his 2004 book by the same name. Along the way to Marble Mouth, Scott Reitherman’s second album as Pillar Point, the singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist must have felt that fear: A line from one of the album’s standout songs, “Black Fly on a White Wall,” says as much. “A scary thing about being free,” Reitherman warns, his voice digitally downtuned for added gravitas. “All your bad ideas have the space to breathe.”

Maybe so, but Marble Mouth finds Reitherman at his most creatively committed. Roiling with mutated vocals, sheeny synths and kitchen-sink percussion—all of which point directly to the darkened dance floor—the album consummates the transformation he began in 2014 with his first Pillar Point album. That debut veered from his previous work in Throw Me the Statue, the eager, well-mannered indie-pop band he founded in 2005. Over the years, Reitherman has been subjected to the same creative anxieties as any modern artist, and his cumulative output has been amiable, catchy, demure. Marble Mouth isn’t a wholesale revision of his aesthetic, but in its emphatic embrace of dance-music propulsion, it’s the most strident statement he’s made yet. The paradox of choice may momentarily paralyze, but the weight of a career—animated by a restless spirit—provides thrust.

No doubt a change of setting helped, too, as Reitherman began developing Marble Mouth in Athens, Ga., with Kevin Barnes, the auteur behind baroque-pop circus Of Montreal, who produced the record in his home studio alongside a host of guest players. From there Reitherman honed the music and lyrics during a spell in New Orleans, soaking in the city’s eerie, encompassing ambiance. It left a mark, not in sound by in psyche: “Black Fly on a White Wall” describes “a jukebox in Bywater that’ll steal your sons and daughters”; “Lafayette” name-checks King James, whose band the Special Men serve red beans and rice at their weekly Monday night gig in that same Bywater neighborhood. The Northwest remains an influence: “Gloomsday” is an itchy, skittering ode to leaving behind—and basking in—gray weather. “Seattle clouds,” Reitherman sings. “Such strange desires.”

Throughout the album, Reitherman electronically contorts his voice, adding extra octaves or raising or lowering its pitch. The effect brings to mind Matthew Dear, the Ann Arbor-based dance-music producer who’s not afraid to sing over his minimal-techno tracks. “Dove,” another album highlight, recalls another singing electronic music band, Caribou, with a glistening, reverent vocal spiraling upward toward disco-ball revelation. But the ultimate frontman prototype here is Beck circa Midnite Vultures—an artist who, like Reitherman, engages choice not only as a paradox but also a playground.

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