Skulking piano keys, smoke-stained harmonies and the occasional blues guitar lead can all be found within the twelve songs on Paul Mark & the Van Dorens’ Gravity LP this June, and in some cases, all three of these elements come colliding into each other in the most epic of ways.
Take “The Next Fight” for example; though this track doesn’t break the pop mold, it definitely doesn’t fit into it very easily at all. Utilizing the aforementioned components and little more, Mark launches into material like “You Can Take It with You,” “Heart Full of Soul,” “O T B,” “December at the P.O.” and “Forever” with a heavy conscience and enough of emotion to bury us in our own reflections by the time this 45-minute LP comes to a conclusion. There aren’t any synthetic melodies, nor any fanciful bells and whistles that a lot of other acts would just as soon design an entire album around. There’s only Paul Mark & the Van Dorens, the music they play, and us – the audience – at our most vulnerable when the band is cutting into obviously personal material.
The piano is as much a poet as Paul Mark himself in “Friend Gone Astray,” and though it doesn’t play as significant a role here as it does in the opening number “Gravity is Failing,” the two songs are essentially defined by the black and white melodicism created by the keys. There’s a lot more of a pastoral influence in Gravity’s prime cuts – such as “The Next Fight,” “Con Man VIP” and “Waiting Round for You” – than I was expecting to hear in the new Paul Mark & the Van Dorens LP, but let’s face it; 2020 hasn’t been about expectations in any dimension of the year thus far. To some degree, the overall theme of this record fits in with the Americana revival transpiring in the alternative underground at the moment, but I don’t get a sense from tracks like “Forever” and “December at the P.O.” that making a scene-aligning document was the objective in this record at all. Contrarily, this is about standing out, and moreover, stepping away from industrial demands altogether.
I was admittedly only somewhat familiar with Paul Mark & the Van Dorens prior to getting my hands on a pre-release copy of Gravity, but I’m definitely inspired to explore their collective works after getting lost in the hypnotic harmonies that this album is filled with. There aren’t a lot of veteran players like Paul Mark that still have the sort of vitality he does, and in Gravity, he never hesitates to give us everything he’s got from behind the microphone. His play is as crisp as the production quality here, and although he’s coming up against a lot of competition on both sides of the dial in 2020, there’s not a doubt in my mind that his sound will continue to rev fans’ engines thanks to its consistently original tone. I like this look, and hopefully, it won’t be the last we see of it.