Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: The Marías Submarine

Nice Life/Atlantic
Nice Life/Atlantic

Summer is here, and so is its soundtrack. Whereas some forms of dream-pop sound unmistakably like winter, the Marías make music for sweltering poolsides, afternoons encased in air conditioning, and glamorous waterfront locales after dark. On their 2021 debut Cinema, the band established an aesthetic that both aligned them with the zeitgeist and gave them their own singular presence. The album won them Grammy nominations, spun off an Adult Alternative radio hit in “Hush,” and made a superfan out of Bad Bunny, who featured them on 2022’s biggest album. Sophomore LP Submarine, out this week, is just as appealing.

Frontwoman María Zardoya was born in Puerto Rico and raised outside of Atlanta in small-town Snellville, GA. (“It’s a church on every corner, Stranger Things kind of town,” she once explained.) There, she developed a breathy, deeply expressive singing style informed by Selena and Norah Jones. In 2016, she moved to Los Angeles and met drummer Josh Conway, who was instantly smitten when he found himself running sound at one of her first gigs in town. Soon they’d started dating and formed a band, rounded out by guitarist Jesse Perlman and keyboardist Edward James. Early on, the band got work creating some songs for a movie, which ultimately went unused but were repurposed for their 2017 debut EP. Writing for the screen helped them to concoct a woozy, laid-back style that applied just as naturally to Britney Spears as to Radiohead, music that practically demanded the stunning visual presentation the band has become known for. And with Zardoya singing both in English and Spanish, the Marías fit into a wave of bilingual artists popping off in the late 2010s, from Cardi B to Cuco.

After they signed to the Atlantic subsidiary Nice Life Recording Company early this decade, the Marías’ music began to sound increasingly luxuriant, but their sound had already been in place for years. It’s exquisite music for chilling out: funky, jazzy, loungey, dreamy pop that never lets its atmospheric qualities drift into sleepy nothingness. Moodboard-wise, you could file it away with a bunch of lush and languid ’90s music — trip-hop hits like Sneaker Pimps’ “6 Underground” and downtempo jams like Everything But The Girl’s “Missing,” totemic wonders like Air’s Moon Safari and Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” — but I also hear echoes of more modern touchstones like Billie Eilish’s swooning balladry, Men I Trust’s vibey indie-pop, the reunited Slowdive’s glittering shoegaze, and Khruangbin’s fashion-boutique funk.

The long list of comparisons speaks to the music’s prismatic tendencies. The Marías never lose their well-developed sense of self, but Submarine gives glimpses of a band with many sides to it. It’s transportive — not psychedelic in the guitar-slinging Summer Of Love sense, but there’s a hallucinogenic quality that made them fit right in two years ago at California’s Desert Daze festival, where King Gizzard and Tame Impala reigned supreme. The Marías were right between Beach House and BADBADNOTGOOD on the poster, and come to think of it, that’s just about exactly where their music resides.

That performance was a showcase for the same charisma that knocked out Conway all those years ago. Zardoya is the band’s smoldering center of gravity, able to breathe songs to life with whispers, coos, and sighs that feel full-bodied even in their quietude. All throughout Submarine, she animates the music with an understated drama. Yet this never feels like a singer-songwriter record because there’s so much splendor unfolding around her. “Hamptons,” the album’s first proper song, blasts off with a hard-hitting syncopated electronic beat that brilliantly complements the music’s wispy qualities. “Ay No Puedo” taps into a bossa nova wavelength, while “If Only” descends into noirish jazz fit for smoky nightclubs. There are even some moments that rock, like the distorted outbursts in “Blur” and the shimmering, hypnotic guitar arpeggios that send “Paranoia” soaring into Deerhunter territory.

Yet for all the bold exploration and savvy curation at play, the music connects in part because Zardoya keeps it grounded in the relatable and relational. We’re repeatedly ushered into her interpersonal drama, little scenes that could be from an art film or prestige TV show about the contours of modern romance. “I wonder what it’s like to be alone/ If you won’t call me back, I guess I’ll know,” she sings on “Echo,” later zagging between minimization (“This is overdramatic”) and red alert (“Now I’m caught in the middle/ Breaking down on the floor/ ‘Cause we both know that this situation’s out of control”). She’s great at crafting little lines that contain multitudes, as on “Blur” when she sings, “If I talk it’s like medicine/ Then it turns into evidence.” And there’s a special synchronicity at play between the music and lyrics when Zardoya conveys the rush of attraction amidst the day-to-day bullshit, as on “Love You Anyway.”

Zardoya’s narration gives emotional stakes to songs that could have been empty retail playlist music, stylish but without substance. The floaty slow dance “No One Noticed” is practically a symphony of vibes, but it hits so much harder with Zardoya ushering us into her headspace with an opening line like “Maybe I lost my mind/ No one noticed” and then complicating her perspective with bars like “No one tried to read my eyes/ No one but you/ Wish it weren’t true.” I don’t know how much of her writing is autobiographical and how much is crafting characters in the grand songwriting tradition, whether we’re getting a Fleetwood Mac situation of intra-band lovers’ quarrels aired out in song or just a brilliant performance of the struggle to make love work. But regardless of where it’s coming from, Submarine takes you somewhere deep.

Submarine is out 5/31 via Nice Life/Atlantic.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Thou’s Umbilical
• Arooj Aftab’s Night Reign
• Bat For Lashes’ The Dream Of Delphi
• Willie Nelson’s The Border
• Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Nathan Salsburg, & Tyler Trotter’s Hear The Children Sing The Evidence
• Richard Thompson’s Ship To Shore
• King Hannah’s Big Swimmer
• Plus/Minus’ Further Afield
• Another Michael’s Pick Me Up, Turn Me Upside Down
• aespa’s Armageddon
• RXKNephew’s Till I’m Dead 2
• Buffalo Tom’s Jump Rope
• Crowded House’s Gravity Stairs
• Anastasia Coope’s Darning Woman
• Swamp Dogg’s Blackgrass: From West Virginia To 125th St
• The Hope Conspiracy’s Tools Of Oppression/Rule By Deception
• Maya Hawke’s Chaos Angel
• Bernard Butler’s Good Grief
• Anna Tivel’s Living Thing
• Bonnie McKee’s Hot City
• Richard Hawley’s In This City They Call You Love
• Big Head Todd & The Monsters’ Her Way Out
• Sam Tompkins’ Hi, My Name Is Insecure
• Becky Hill’s Believe Me Now?
• Jon Muq’s Flying Away
• Jacob Kulick’s Nostalgia Is A Thing Of The Past
• Orbury Common’s Sylvan Chute
• Habibi’s Dreamachine
• Jon Foreman’s In Bloom
• Eric Chenaux Trio’s Delights Of My Life
• Jesse Dayton’s The Hard Way Blues
• Tim Atlas’ Enchante
• Cowtown’s Fear Of…
• Akira Kosemura & Lawrence English’s Selene
• Ezra Feinberg’s Soft Power
• Bad Nerves’ Still Nervous
• Noelle & The Deserters’ High Desert Daydream
• Babe Report’s Did You Get Better
• HHY & The Macumbas’ Bom Sangue Mau
• Winnetka Bowling League’s Sha La La
• Cora Novoa’s LFOs & Creatures
• Alan Vega’s Insurrection
• AMERY’s Continue As Amery
• Lisa Ann Schoenberg’s Old Growth Playback
• Neutrals’ New Town Dream
• The Antikaroshi’s L’inertie Polaire
• The Troops Of Doom’s A Mass To The Grotesque
• The Bird Calls’ Old Faithful
• Joshua Epithet’s Boys And Their Video Cameras
• Howe Gelb’s Weathering Some Piano
• Broken Head’s The Morning Ends
• Kurupi’s No Esperes
• Scott Guild & Cindertalk’s Plastic: The Album
• The Handover’s The Handover
• Bed Maker’s Bed Maker
• Ayra Starr’s The Year I Turned 21
• Deathpact’s FROM DARKNESS
• Robin Holcomb’s One Way Or Another, Vol. 2
• Polkadot’s …to be crushed
• Olatuja’s Olatuja
• Carín León’s Boca Chueca Vol. 1
• Mo3’s Legend
• Nightmares On Wax’s Carboot Soul (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
• The Menzingers’ Some Of It Was True (Deluxe)
• Duff McKagan’s Tenderness Live In Los Angeles
• Lucius’ Wildewoman (The New Recordings)
• ODESZA’s The Last Goodbye Tour Live
• World News’ Escape EP
• Half Waif’s Ephemeral Being EP
• Oddisee’s And Yet Still EP
• Myaap’s YOP! EP
• Terry Jones’ Bebop Summer EP
• Slow Fiction’s Crush EP
• Hollow Ship’s Animated Music EP
• hannah bahng’s The Abysmal EP

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