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The student newspaper of Clark University

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The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

“EXCELSIOR” by Slauson Malone 1 REVIEW

Jasper Marsalis’s new album is both chilling and uplifting, and shows a newfound maturity in his artistic style.
Leo Kerz
Slauson Malone 1 performing at The Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan, NY on 10/22/23.

Moving on from his three musical projects, one book and multiple artistic performance series titled “Crater Speak,” Jasper Marsalis, under the name Slauson Malone 1, released “EXCELSIOR” on October 6. It’s hard to determine whether this album is some sort of an extension of “Crater Speak,” as the first phrases spoken on the album, “Where I go” and “Bring me home,” appeared extensively in “Vergangenheitsbewältigung,” an EP installment to “Crater Speak,” or if these words signal a departure from the series.

Jasper’s musical approach has continuously evolved throughout the series, and advances even further on “EXCELSIOR.” This album is a wonderful blend of his previous explorations of electronic music, such as tracks like “THE MESSAGE 2” and “Smile #8 (Je3’s Eextendedd Megadance Version for Star​) ​(​see page 182),” and the highly orchestrated acoustic arrangements seen in the aforementioned “Vergangenheitsbewältigung.” 

The lyrical content of this project seems to still have the political facet that characterized the afropessimistic “Crater Speak” series: in “Voyager,” Jasper sings “Forest fires paint my world alizarin/Take a dive, as the water rise.” This lyric, along with multiple references to atomic weapons (such as the song title “No! (Geiger Dub)”) reiterates his previously stated feelings on the hopelessness of living in the modern world. He confirmed himself that the first album in his “Crater Speak” series, “A Quiet Farwell, 2016–2018 (Crater Speak),” was created to reflect “the emotions caused by the conditions of the Anthropocene e.g. Global Yt Supremacy, Global Warming, Post-Colonialism/Post-Blackness, Black Death, the spectacle of Black Suffering.” Jasper’s music continues to grapple with these complex, life-consuming issues. 

“EXCELSIOR” reflects the disheartening nature of these emotions in its musical elements as well. For example, “Fission for Drums, Piano & Voice” is bone-chilling, especially in its explosive ending that melds electronic and orchestral instrumentation into an overwhelming wave of sound. In terms of tonality, “Half-Life” is a fantastic example of the discomfort that Jasper aims to create in his music: although the listener’s brain might beg for some sort of finality to this ambiguous progression, the chords sound as if they could continue on and on forever with no resolution.

“I Hear A New World” is the epitome of Jasper’s portrayed outlook on life. Between odd, medieval-sounding harpsichord instrumentation aided by echoing, pitched-up and reverbed edits of his vocals, there are moments of peace where Jasper’s clean, calm voice is only assisted by an electric piano and less intense vocal edits. It’s hard for me to decipher how I feel about this track. I recently heard Jasper perform this song live at the Bowery Ballroom on October 22; the way he nearly whispered the lyrics “How do I tell them,” and then screamed the words “What’s in store for us,” had me absolutely speechless as an audience member. It’s an intelligently painful and almost unenjoyable track, which is honestly why I think it is such a standout of the album.

“EXCELSIOR” isn’t just depressing, though. I find “New Joy” to be an especially uplifting and humorous track. Its drum n’ bass style percussive patterns paired with Jasper’s cool, laid-back vocals create a song that, if it came on at a party, I’m nearly certain people would happily dance along to. The lyrics in this song are also a bit silly: “Inside the brine, baby/Be my bride, forever/Pickle,” “Breed me please” and other quips can make the attentive listener laugh while listening to the song.

In each subsequent Slauson Malone 1 project, Jasper’s voice has become more mature and emotional, but in “EXCELSIOR” his vocals shine through in an incredible and notable fashion. The standout track in this album for me is “Decades, Castle Romeo,” a song so good that I have caught myself thinking about it multiple times a day since first hearing it. Jasper’s vocal performance on this song leaves me with an empty feeling in my gut and tears in my eyes. The way he plays with the dynamics and enunciation of the words he sings is just perfect – I can truly feel the emotions he’s putting his whole heart into portraying here. The song is also a prime example of the increased utilization of orchestral instruments by Jasper, presumably due to the continued assistance of cellist Nicky Wethrell during his live performance art, that add such a unique beauty to the overall project.

All the electronic, acoustic and orchestral elements meld together in an interesting way in “EXCELSIOR,” and this project is certainly more experimental and out-there than his previous work. I believe the vision of this album was incredibly ambitious, and Jasper pulled it off in an impressive way. An issue I had with his prior projects was that, after a first listen, I had trouble recalling multiple memorable or standout moments, despite thinking the project was amazing. On this album, however, there are many exceptional tracks that I could easily recite off the top of my head – especially “Decades, Castle Romeo,” “New Joy,” “Half-Life” and “Voyager,” along with many others.

The final song on the album, “Us (Tower of Love)” begins optimistic and lovely, with Jasper singing the words “I’m you” over and over, but soon descends into creepy chaos. It is a fitting ending that summarizes the feelings of the entirety of “EXCELSIOR,” and gives it a final push that is needed to really make this album feel so outstanding.

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