Wednesday, December 22nd, 2021

Amber Mark – What It Is

Next up, Sam has us revisiting an artist for the first time in three years…


Sam Blizzard: Over the course of almost six years of EPs, one-offs, and features leading up to her debut album release early next year, Amber Mark has cemented her place as a master of woozy, throaty neo-soul with an ear for nagging pop melodies. The best of her 2021 singles, “What It Is,” gets esoteric as she questions love, life, and her career over a warm, murmuring synth. As the chorus of Ambers harmonizes on the bridge before the electric guitar solo takes us home (in 2021! more of this, please), her point becomes clear: these grand universal questions don’t often have answers, but posing them creates one hell of a barnburner ballad.

Katherine St Asaph: Amber Mark has yet to break out of her cohort of neo-neosoul artists with impeccable taste, even more impeccable PR, and decent, polite songs. “What It Is” is also decent and polite, save for the guitar solo around 4:40. It’s cheesy and ’80s-garish and way too late in the song, but at least it is something.

Will Adams: It’s tasteful, it’s well-performed, it’s manicured, it’s studied. The electric guitar begins to add that needed spark, but then the song’s over.

Vikram Joseph: A long, hazy exhalation of a song, bearing a more than passing resemblance to “Susie Save Your Love” and sharing an aura with the sunblushed languor of Empress Of’s Us, and lasting five and a half minutes largely due to being entranced by a feeling and unwilling to let go of it. It’s a really lovely thing, especially strong in its final stretch (the close, emphatic harmonies in the final bridge and the sheer decadence of the guitar solo). To be honest, it’s so out of season right now that it’s hard to really feel it in the way it wants to be experienced — holed up in the shortest days of a winter spent in uneasy adjacency to a wounded beast of a pandemic, lurching towards its endgame but lashing out vengefully along the way, its crushed-out summer vibes feel like an alien art form. But I know it won’t be all that long before I hear this floating in from a terrace somewhere, where it belongs.

Nortey Dowuona: The lazy, dragging drums make so much space for the drizzled bass and noncommittal synth programming, which both leach towards Amber’s pliant yet bouncy soprano tone which makes the mix fritz and freak out as she twirls it. When spreads it across the sky, her voice sways and shatters into gorgeous harmonies that make her patiently penned lyrics come alive in each vocoded coo and reverb drenched echo. The plush, open crassness of the bridge speaks to Amber, who flattens the mix then sends it spiraling into the sky, then spins it into a hurtling dervish that she shapes around her, a guitar appearing as she shreds it to pieces, sending it to pierce the clouds and mix above her, leaving behind her and her echoes.

Alfred Soto: One of those studious artists whose gestures I question for their reflexive sincerity, Amber Mark releases a well-paced R&B thumper distinguished by wonderful call-and-response vocalizing and a solid guitar solo. Then I forgot it existed.

Ian Mathers: I’m a fan of Mark’s performance and the way the music here makes “politely funky” into a virtue, but I have to confess… I think she does know what it is. And I don’t myself. And I wish she’d just tell us.

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