Review: The Meaning by Stephen Kalinich and Adam Marsland

By Alan Smith

In a cosmic mind-meld of two notable associates and intimates of The Beach Boys and the band’s ‘outer’ circle, Stephen Kalinich (Brother Records artist alumnus, collaborator on “Little Bird,” “Be Still,” and “California Feeling” among others) and Adam Marsland (musician/producer, psychogeographer, the guy whose Chaos Band covered Dennis Wilson ’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice (To Live Again)” years before it’s official release), ponder ‘what’s it all about.’

The format seems pretty simple: Stephen recites his long form poem as a spoken word piece, Adam provides and performs backing music and wordless vocals across 4 “Parts” before culminating in “Part 5 – Finale” where Stephen provides the final word on The Meaning.

But this is serious poetry and serious music, both potentially artistic high points for each artist with a dazzling complexity, worthy of your listening time and existential attention.

Stephen really pulls out the stops as he taps imagery, phrases, and words from the zeitgeist and the knowledge he has absorbed during his time on this planet. His intricate evocations mostly transcend an earthly existence bound by the laws of time and space – we find Stephen ‘imploding, exploding, forming new quasars’ as per “Part 2 – The Void.” Baring his soul and essence, he proudly admits to being “his own life’s work,” defies the decay of stasis and finds relief in the energetic chaos surrounding him. But it’s not all shooting stars and lofty sublimations, as we find him comparing the fleetingness of his existence to a “gulped down Diet Coke with lemon, a chocolate bar with almonds.” It’s an accessible, sweet and bittersweet moment during “Part 3 – What Am I.”

There’s a spirited bravery and innocence in Stephen’s acceptance that he may never fully discover all elements of his absolute composition and he opts to take in the beauty of the mystery and makes peace with his spiritual mystique. Whoa! And that’s only the CliffNotes of two parts of this amazing spoken word voyage through the life and galactic heat imprint of Stephen.

Adam Marsland, long-time Beach Boys devotee, describes his accompanying music as such on his Bandcamp page. Marsland took the Beach Boys’ most adventurous and esoteric late ’60s period as a jumping off point into a new sonic world, melding diverse analog instruments and wordless vocals into a compelling, moody soundscape that underscores the thoughtful drama of Kalinich’s prose.

That’s not a bad self-assessment, although it humbly belies the breadth of the influences and music styles Adam has also drawn down from the zeitgeist. Seamlessly self-performed and vocalized, Marsland’s background settings are meditative for the most part but retain a kinetic energy, comparable to the ebb of an ocean’s tide or the hot plasma core of Stephen’s newly formed quasars.

Yes, there are touches of SMiLE sessions and Brian Wilson’s fated foray into new soundscapes, but there are also tone and mood akin to Carl Wilson and The Beach Boys’ “Feel Flows” from Surf’s Up, touch points to primal elements of “Rio Grande” from Brian’s 1988 self-titled solo album, and maybe even be a little nod to Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue LP synth textures.

Adam also brings musical gleanings beyond the world of The Beach Boys that you can list like the tasting notes of a heady red wine – hints of REM and Fleet Foxes (“Part 3 – What Am I”), percussive abstractions perhaps borrowed from Tom Waits (“Part 4 – The Killer”) vs beat-box interludes that burst through from time to time. Textured layerings reminiscent of both Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno provide a solid foundation as we progress to the triumphant finale. In the meantime, the cleverly added and sequenced synth textures, sub-shaking ‘BOOMS,’ and occasionally, complete silence, not only function as linking elements but display the organic fusion of Stephen’s words and Adam’s music. 

Finally, a great cohesiveness in the vocals shines through – Stephen’s recitation, while confident and powerful, is comforting and supportive. He’s not looking to preach and drag us kicking and screaming on his journey but seeks to lead and welcome via his enigmatic charisma. As Stephen builds our trust in his message via his (deceptively) youthful sounding tones, Adam’s vocals are filled with energy, similar in sound to the long-held third ‘aahs’ of The Beach Boys “Can’t Wait Too Long” – and listen out as well for some great atmospheric mumbling textures on “Part 1 – Is Love.”

Like any great artistic endeavor, there are endless ways to interpret and understand The Meaning – I hope it sparks some great discussion and unexpected enlightenment.

Currently streaming at https://adammarsland.bandcamp.com/album/the-meaning and available to download in HQ digital formats for USD $8 or more.

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