Adonai (Forbidden Colours, 2018) is Marco Paul’s latest work, and the first one of his multiple projects to bear his own name. Going solo is always a tricky decision. Is there life after the band(s)? Let’s find out!
Forbidden Colours is probably one of Spain’s best kept secrets (other than “tortilla de bacalao” -yeah, search for that recipe and thank me later-). This relatively underground imprint from Bilbao started pretty much as a so-called vanity label, a tailor made place for Aitor Etxebarria where he could release his works as El_Txef_A, or as himself, with fine examples like his music for Markak’s original soundtrack. (And, talking about OSTs, I wonder if the label was named after Sylvian and Sakamoto’s track of the same name..?).
Although it’s still described in its official website as “the space for the vision of Aitor Etxebarria”, Forbidden Colours has lately morphed into something quite a bit bigger and more ambitious, as a wealth of expertly curated artists -such as Reykjavik606 or Eduardo De La Calle– started releasing music with the label’s backing. With Forbidden Colour’s 10th release, Adonai, it looks like Aitor wanted to do something a little special (by the way, he’s also the album’s co-producer). It’s like some kind of underground, private anniversary celebration for the label, with a very honorable guest as the master of ceremonies.
After years of fruitful work with several bands (some quite good I might say, just listen to Sour Soul’s “L’appel du Vide”) and numerous collaborations, Marco Paul decided -or so the promo text reads- to leave everything behind and retire to a remote island in the Caribbean, in order to find his inner self (I’m feeling some deep envy there Marco!). While this all sounds a bit stereotypical -the Beatles’ in India is too iconic of an image to forget-, the results couldn’t be further from those, otherwise excellent, clichéd exotic artist trips.
If there’s one word that can define Adonai, it must be “subtle”. I think that if Marco had gone to Bangkok like the fab four did, he wouldn’t have bought a sitar, nor would he had “forced it” into his music (ok, don’t kill me you Beatle fan!), instead he would probably have preferred to take his time and newly found solitude to perfect his own skills, while still using the same set of tools. And this is what Adonai sounds like: a honest trip to the pursuit of perfection, a journey of refinement. As such, it’s more of an evolution of his previous sound with projects like Ratbot than something completely different.
The first track, Filius -latin term for “son”- starts off with a clever melodic bass drum and spoken word samples of C.G. Jung, reflecting on the inherent individuality of the child and the self. The initial melodic kick later makes room for a Rhodes piano that takes bass and lead duties, with a jazzy character reminiscent of 70s groups like Placebo (not the british band, I’m talking about Marc Moulin’s jazz ensemble!). A voice later enters the scene with a bluesy timbre that evokes 90s lounge and trip hop projects such as Portishead or Morcheeba. But the sound of this is much rawer, and although excellently produced and mixed -no rough edges here- it sounds definitely more acoustic and “nude” than any of those 90s records, somewhat closer to something from Nils Frahm aesthetically.
Even when electronic elements appear, they seem do so with utmost respect and politeness; as an example there are some “disco toms” in that first track, something that would seem out of place in a record like this, yet they just fit perfectly. Sylvian, the second cut, starts off with a string section sound (possibly from a Mellotron or some kind of sampler), later joined by acoustic pianos, trumpet and a male voice. It has an overall sonority that’s globally closer to trip hop than the previous tune. This is specially evident in the drums that, although apparently hand played, have a vinyl-like filtered treatment, giving them some of that dusty retro flair. Tiamat, the third track, takes a similar approach but adds many more electronic elements like synthesizer pads and sampled drums (there’s even a hint of 303-ish acid sounds in the middle section!) going for a more atmospheric and soundtracky feel overall.
Then Marco Paul enters full soundtrack mode with Hawa’, a sort of jazz-jam on top of a repeating “Hans Zimmer-esque” chord progression , that later fades out leaving just a naked piano (going back to the sense of intimacy that you could get from the first track), and ultimately ends with an epic reverse effect. The next song is Adonai, the title track. After a fairly long and exotic intro full of chimes and reverb, a beatiful electric piano comes in, first filling the lower frequencies with an ostinato bassline and then acommpanying a breathy voice in higher registers. It all reminds me of french band AIR in a way, specially when the tuned down, 70s sounding muffled drums come in -just with a bit less of a pop attitude, obviously-.
But the best part is when the song takes an unexpected bizarre trip, with the -until then- simple drums turning into a crazy funk party at about 4:45 while many other elements take similar paths -that groovy flute!-, to later calm down a little again. Just damn brilliant! The last track, Teurari, is pretty much a piano solo piece, in the vein of Peter Broderick or Ólafur Arnalds, but with a bit more jazzyness thrown in (just a spoonful of Thelonious Monk or Bill Evans). It’s pretty much Marco noodling on those keys for 8:42 minutes but -surprisingly-, there’s not a second of boredom. (By the way this last tune is exclusively available on the vinyl version, something to seriously consider if you want to buy this album. It’s totally worth it if you ask me.)
We might never know if this record is specially good because: A) Aitor wanted to celebrate the 10th release, B) Marco wanted to make a statement with his first solo album, C) Both, or D) Neither. Whatever it is, this piece of plastic is priceless and, while intentionally subtle, the music it contains deserves all the attention. Theres a sense of intimacy in these recordings that’s rarely found in today’s music, and the attention to detail is simply matchless.
A labor of love for sure.
If you like it, you can get this album here.
About the author: José -Pepe- Coca is a musician, producer and audio engineer from Zaragoza (Spain). He has a PhD in Art and teaches Sound Systems, Synthesis and Mastering courses at CPA Salduie and SEAS. He has also worked as a sound designer for companies such as Elektron, Befaco or HelloSamples.