Review: Mark E ‘Stone Breaker’

Birmingham-based Mark E brings some glittery disco and dark house on his debut album “Stone Breaker.”

Review: Mark E 'Stone Breaker'

Mark E weaves together the dark and the light on his debut album “Stone Breaker.”  Songs glisten or shudder as mood pieces without much variation in the beat.  Mark E seems to be all about atmospherics, melody and mechanical repetition, which is perfectly welcome for those who enjoy electronic music that isn’t pop in the way of Cut Copy or LCD Soundsystem.  He may have the heart of house producer, but he’s not afraid to unleash his inner Kraftwerkian robot.

“Archway” begins with a beat almost reminiscent of New Order’s “Blue Monday” intro.  Peaking around the perimeter of the beat are stray synth notes which morph into something approximating Eurthymics’ “Sweet Dreams.”  The song locks into a groove and there it stays for its duration without much deviation until about 5:14, when the breakdown takes it into hypnotic territory before returning to the former path.

Then, a switch to the light and playful in “Black Country Saga” which has synths evocative of Boards of Canada’s “Zoetrope.”  This is perhaps the most hypnotic track on the album, with a slow and steady beat, and bassline that hops along as though it were a self-aware and happy entity.  It’s a wonder to hear with headphones on, but to hear this in a car with full bass ripping down the Pacific Coast Highway would be ideal.

“Belvide Beat” is as big and funky as any of the British Big Beat of the ’90s, and might have fit comfortably on an early Chemical Brothers release or on “The Matrix” soundtrack.  It will probably get some play in clubs, but this one isn’t exactly easy listening.  “Quatro,” on the other hand is built for the dancefloor and easy, fit for summer afternoons in which copious amounts of alcohol might be absorbed into the bloodstream, and perhaps a psychedelic or two dropped.  Of course, it works well without any sort of enhancement, kids.  Stay sober.

Mark E delivers a warm groove in “Got to Get Me There,” which recalls the ’90s progressive house of Underworld, Leftfield and even some Aphex Twin circa “Selected Ambient Works 85-92.”  A similar ’90s sound follows on “Deny This” to great effect with the four-to-the-floor beat and bouncing bassline, around which are wrapped various whirs and arpeggios.

“Black Moon” best typifies Mark E’s light/dark approach, in that it has pulsating synths and melancholic melody, but is propelled forward by a thick house beat and a rolling bassline that sounds like midnight.  The mood is full of shade, but Mark E eventually pulls in shimmering synthesizer pads followed closely thereafter by playful notes.

The style of the track “Oranges” is Chicago House with ethereal synth pads in the midst of a panoply of other complimentary sounds.  This one will probably be a hit on DJ decks the world ’round, but perhaps it will also catch some ears amongst the modern bohemian set (one can’t be quite sure what will tickle their fancy from day-to-day).  Mark E closes out “Stone Breaker” with a rather delightful track called “The Day,” which is a slow-motion house number full of atmospherics and snippets of a diva humming or scatting.

In the final analysis, “Stone Breaker” is a pretty solid if anachronistic detour into house sounds of old.  Demo the tracks or buy the album over at Ghostly International.