by Matt Meade
Of course our society is headed down the wrong path. Of course we are all doomed. Campaign finance. Global warming. Infectious diseases. Nuclear proliferation. 21st Century Crusades. Monsanto. Something has gone terribly wrong and even us, here in the first world, can feel the cold bite of the impending Winter of Mankind.
But every once in a while, hope flickers like a bonfire in the distance. The beautiful, but unkempt music of a man named Mardock the Sun God is one such burning shimmer of hope. His vocals crackle and smoke like damp logs in the flame and the melodies writhe and coruscate against the nighttime sky. Mardock, I would venture, is not the man’s given name, but it is the name he chose when he joined the collective where he lives and works and plays guitar. He works to live, the way you are supposed to and he plays guitar for the reasons people started playing musical instruments in the first place. He is not playing the guitar to get famous, get back at all those people who doubted him, and to get laid. He’s playing guitar to entertain his loved ones, to communicate ideas, to make something beautiful… and, actually, maybe also to get laid. Like you are supposed to.
What we have with Mardock is a truly unique artifact. He is a person raised on all the same musical influences as any other young man with a guitar who was born in the waning years of the 20th century, but he is also a person who has transported himself to another context, another society separate from those musical influences where he can see and understand them all anew. He is an anthropological anomaly. The music he makes belongs in and is made for the community of Acorn, a farm collective and an offshoot of the Twin Oaks community in Virginia, and yet he disseminates this music back to the rest of us squares living in the corporate controlled world. Knowing the context of the music creates a strange effect when you listen. Snatches of melody emerge like Mardock’s memory of radio from his life before he separated from our corrupted society, and his songwriting and playing are as rich and sumptuous as the meals he prepares with his bare hands, as gritty and raw as the vegetables he pulls from the garden.
Even when the songs recall Akron/Family’s “Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead,” or Bright Eyes’ “At The Bottom of Everything,” it feels like the kind of appropriation that is warranted, or at least forgivable in songs written and played for groups of exhausted forward-thinkers living on a near post-apocalyptic commune and needing some kind of entertainment, and some kind of catharsis.
It’s sort of like that scene in Reign of Fire where Christian Bale and Gerard Butler act out Star Wars on their own Post-Apocalyptic commune.
It’s not stealing if your heart is pure. It’s not wrong if it’s the right kind of theft.
There is something exhausted, something truly beat about the way he plays with calloused hands and worn out body, but emboldened soul. He sounds ready for bed most of the time, but happy to be awake (awake in more ways than one, of course) and playing in the twilight, rocking his melodies back and forth using what picking patterns from country and folk music are available to him. There is something virginal about his music. His fingers hunt for the hammer-ons, as if he is doing so for the first time, and his voice is sometimes searching for the right note or tone, but it is always brave. Brave perhaps in that way one is brave when he does not know any better. He sounds like what The Fleet Foxes with all of their Whole Foods shopping, progressivism, and CSNY records wish they sounded like.
The songs have names like “X Marks” and “All is Mind” which imply some kind of deep existential longing the likes of which fresh air and communal living won’t fix on its own. The songs are not just about the feeling of alienation and being lost. They are about actively searching for an answer and sometimes even finding one or two. Maybe that is what sets this Mardock apart from other six-string slingers. He isn’t heartsick. He is heartstrong.
When the percussion shows up on songs like “Shoulda Gone, Long Gone” and “Ginger’s Song,” and the jangling “Look Out Boys!” it is welcome, like some kind of fence to set a few boundaries for the meandering Mardock.
Mardock is a wanderer at heart, god damn it (ask him about his upcoming bus tour), so the songs lope along without the tight constricts of the percussion. And maybe that is where the artist is in his life. He is still struggling with how much structure he needs in his life. How much we all need. We all certainly would like more freedom, less observation by the NSA, less subliminal advertising, less chemicals in our food, but what would we do with all that freedom? Mardock is one of the few people trying to find out.
The ground that these songs cover has been covered before, but so has farming and agriculture. This is an artist using what is known to be effective, (community, hard work, V-I turnarounds, a healthy diet, bass string pedal patterns, organic seed sales) and employing them in a way that works for him.
After listening to the whole album and a few other goodies available on his soundcloud page, I still prefer the first song of his I heard. I heard it on Greg Carlwood’s very entertaining Higher Side chats podcast where Mardock and a woman mysteriously referred to as Bella Donna really get into it. Maybe I like this song the best because hearing the song for the first time, so different and new yet so accessibly familiar, delivers a thrill and that thrill is the best part of the song. Maybe every time I hear it I am reminded of the ideas he presented on that podcast, and those ideas are getting me off. Or maybe it is just his best tune.