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The best kept secret in music


"Hello mellow >> Montreal's Marlowe are back with bells on"

"We saw the face of God." A heavier than thou statement from Marlowe's songwriter/guitarist Joseph Donovan, and a side effect of the magical mushroom trip that inspired the title of the band's new album, He Is There and He's Funny. In describing the physical sensation and psychological impact of their shared fungal high, Donovan and lyricist/singer/keyboardist Alex Olsen liken themselves to babies being lifted up and tickled by a laughing Buddha-type deity, leaving them with a fresh sense of wonder and an appreciation for the lighter things in life.

"I think art plays that role," says Donovan. "Even if [an artist is] dealing with dark and nasty and sorrowful things, it can still be funny in the sense that it becomes this beautiful dance that enables us to deal with the darkness."

"Blues is bittersweet," adds Olsen, a Billie Holiday buff. "It acknowledges all the shit of life but tries to elevate it by bringing it into light and singing about it."

Marlowe may not sing the blues, but their experiments in post-pop don't fail to address shadow-bound thoughts and sounds, along with hopeful, sunlit ones. Recorded at the Stock Market Audio Centre, the studio Donovan operates with Tricky Woo guitarist Adrian Popovich, the new record is bolder and more refined than the band's 1998 debut, Galax-sea, an album they regard as an ill-conceived teenage effort crafted in cahoots with the wrong producer, the wrong label and, to some degree, the wrong band.

"It's difficult to work with other people when they try to pull your ideas in different directions," says Donovan, "but if they get where you're going, it's amazing. It's like adding new spices to the soup."

After Marlowe's more rock-oriented members migrated to the Dears and to Sam Roberts' band, Donovan and Olsen got to cooking with keyboardist Nicolas Côté, bassist Howard Martin and drummer Kevin Laing. Between day jobs, Donovan studied sound recording and built the studio, amassing the gear and the expertise to manoeuvre the band's integral process.

"We realized that a large part of our songwriting is sounds and subtleties, that recording is part of the composition for us, and therefore we have to do it ourselves," says Olsen.

And DIY they did, taking over a year to produce nine tracks, fusing their shoegazing and space-age pop influences with ambient and minimal ones, minus the sometimes alienating, elitist gauze of "experimental" music.

"We're trying to take that otherwordly, transcendental feeling and bring a more human, personal side to it," Donovan explains, admitting that one of his favourite tracks is the least minimal and most majestic piece, the only song featuring the full new lineup, "Roman Empire."

"That song feels so exciting to us," he gushes. "It's not perfect. I'll never be totally happy - I hope I'm never happy - but this is it, this is what we wanted."

And, after six years under construction, Marlowe is up and running and wanting more. Half of the next album is written and parts of it are already in demo form, so expect new material sometime this side of 2005.

"Now we're at that stage where we have a vision, we've got the line-up, the gear, the skills and we've got the aesthetic background chiselled out for what we want do," he says. "We're really on fire." - The Montreal Mirror

"Disc of the week"

It's been six quiet years since this local quintet's debut, Galax-Sea, but with a triple shot of new blood (their drummer, bassist and keyboardist), more diverse influences (post-rock, ambient IDM etc.) and loftier goals, this album essentially buries its predecessor. The rich, epic "Roman Empire" harks back to Spiritualized's better days, but, apart from the mellow Britpop appeal of "Labour Day," it's something of an anomaly. The remainder of the disc deals in beautifully orchestrated, melodic minutia, patient guitar riffs, keyboard lines and vocals dropped and layered delicately and sparingly. The minimal approach never mutes or confines the songs, and that's this album's power. 9/10 - The Montreal Mirror

"Marlowe/The Besnard Lakes show review"

After a booming set by indie psychedelics the Besnard Lakes, Montreal’s Marlowe struck a relatively subtle and composed chord, patiently uttering the predominantly mellow, ethereal sounds captured on their new album, He Is There and He’s Funny. The record launch closed the six-year gap since the band’s debut, Galax.Sea, and it seems this elusive sophomore disc has been worth waiting for. Led by founders and songwriters Alex Olsen (the band’s mouthpiece) and guitarist Joseph Donovan (the latest addition to the Dears), and joined by new-ish rhythm and keyboard players, Marlowe has evolved from a space-age Britpop bachelor pad band to a modern post-pop act as obsessed with space and sonic minutia as with guitar pedals and pop melodies. So, in front of a full house on a frigid Sunday, the band climbed on stage and unfurled one of their sweet’n’sinister numbers, "Honey Bee," a song that builds on its whispers and coy guitar to a "sweet" mantra and honey-coated keyboard solo. Planète Sauvage, a surreal French cartoon from the ’70s, played behind the stage throughout the set, providing suitably hot and cold, oddly organic visual fodder, and presumably taking pressure off Olsen, who lingered during the instrumental passages with percussive toys occasionally occupying her hands. But after the band’s rich hums and strums occupied the spotlight, Olsen returned to centre stage with some celestial droning for "Roman Empire," a dense, magnetic epic recalling a time when Jason Pierce could move mountains with a few flicks of his wrist. Less weighty but equally stirring songs filled out the twilight of the set, which ended with "Labour Day," a humble anthem carried by an echoing guitar that gracefully darted and chimed to a close. - Exclaim

"Montreal Buzz: Shill For Bill, Rock For Smut And See God With Marlowe"

..."the sophomore disc is a rich, refined and stirring concoction, recalling the guitar-laden epics of Spiritualized on one end and the IDM pop of Mm on the other, with inventive post-rock devices bridging the gap."... -

"Marlowe as a lifestyle choice"

I like to tell people that I've known this particular guy so long that I knew him back when he was called Joey. Then later on he began to refer to himself as the more grown up (but still far from average) Joe. And now he's a full-blown Joseph. Frankly, I don't know where else he can go with it, which is appropriate given the fact that Joseph Donovan's band Marlowe, after a long and not altogether pleasant journey, has also matured and arrived at a place of comfort.

Donovan got his start in West Island goth-pop band Screwtape in the early '90s, which in turn used to play with fledgling bands like Grover and Northstar, a couple of Montrealer Sam Roberts' first groups. ("Sam's bass player James Hall used to sing in Screwtape, and Sam's keyboard player used to be our keyboard player," chuckles Donovan. "Yeah, James used to be in our goth band, and now he's dreadfully embarrassed about it.") Alas, there was more to life than being undead, thus Marlowe.

What began as an atmospheric rock concept in the mid-'90s slowly began to subsume some of the more spacious characteristics of British trip-hop, a deft albeit languorous retreat from the madness of alternative music, by this time an ironic descriptive at best. An album was released in 1998, galax-sea, that people liked. Problem is, Marlowe didn't, and it looked as though that sole lonely release would be this charming band's legacy as lineups began to disintegrate through disuse, misuse and issues. Then things got quiet for a long while. A very long

And then just like that, they winked back on: founding members, but no longer romantically linked, Joseph Donovan (who also plays guitar for The Dears) and Alex Olsen (a.k.a. DJ Polly Six) on vox/heartbreaking, as well as newcomers Kevin "Nipples" Laing on drums (ex of jane.fon.dorb), Howard Martin on bass and Nicolas Côté manning keys. Better than them just turning up at our doorstep is the fact they brought presents, namely a new disc with the amusing, bewildering and inexplicably apropos title, He Is There and He's Funny. Donovan must be stoked...

"I'm actually just sleeping..."

Nice to be you.

"...'cause I was up all night at the studio and didn't get to bed until nine this morning. My brain's a little bit behind me right now."

I take it back. In addition to his Marlowe and Dears responsibilities, Donovan owns and operates the Stock Market Audio recording studio with Adrian Popovich, guitarist for the reformed Tricky Woo. The studio actually goes a long way toward explaining why Marlowe chose the path of, well, no resistance for so many years. And why was that again?

"The answer that I've been giving is... [We laugh] No, but it's essentially true," asserts Donovan. "When we made the first record we got suckered by the label we were working with, by a 'producer,' and basically allowed the excitement of what we were doing to get leeched out of the project, ultimately ending up with something we weren't happy with. I decided we'd never make an album like that again. So that's why we started the studio, something I never intended to become the job it has."

Prior to opening the studio, Donovan studied sound recording at McGill "and worked a ton of shitty jobs trying to afford the gear." Anything else?

"And I'm a studio geek, so the record did take longer than it should have, though the next record will be done..."

Don't say it!


Pull back on the stick!

"...the end of this year."

D'oh! Okay, well, you can hold him to his word.

Back to the present, where the vast majority of He Is There and He's Funny is still characterized by ambient, down-tempo beats, guitar and keys meanderings, though sophistication born of experience is the band on this barrel of sleepy monkeys. That said, the album-opening Roman Empire is a monster of a tune that brings to mind a Curve, a Spiritualized or even a Cranes (on a good day), though with the forward-looking freshness that comes from a solid grounding in the here and now.

"Roman Empire is what we're most happy with because that's the song that has the whole new lineup on it," enthuses Donovan, "which I'm really happy with because it's super solid and everyone loves each other. Roman Empire most closely approximates the aesthetic of what we want now, the starting point from now on."

For someone of my, let's say, musical persuasion, it's like Christmas come early.

"Yeah, it's a rock song," Donovan says with light chagrin. "And there's more of those coming. I don't know what happened - I was hoping to get all weird and spacey, and we're popping out all these rock songs."

The video for Roman Empire, the first single off the album, begins shooting in two weeks, and Donovan says we can anticipate a comparable aesthetic to that of the album and featuring a lot of handmade animation. Coinciding with the release of the video, Marlowe are in the process of pulling together a sprawling tour for April and May, where we'll "try to do as much of Canada as possible."

In sum, the morale in camp Marlowe at present might be described as nothing short of ...

"Awesome. Things are fantastic and we feel we're at the beginning, in the position where we want to be, and we have the means and togetherness to do it."

Laughing, he finishes, "I'm feeling pretty good about art as a lifestyle choice right now." - Hour

"He is there and he's funny review"

Deuxième album très attendu des Montréalais Marlowe (Galax-sea remonte à 1998), He Is There... témoigne toujours de cette aptitude pour une pop expérimentale très éthérée. Si le premier extrait, Roman Empire, une sublime pièce à vous laisser pantois, est propulsé dans les grandes sphères du shoegazer par les guitares bruyantes de Joseph Donovan (The Dears), la suite de l'album s'adoucit considérablement. Mené par la voix de fée mielleuse d'Alex Olsen, le registre moins intense gagne en délicatesse. Les ambiances et les sonorités de Title Track rappellent certains moments moins électro du dernier Radiohead, ce qui n'est pas sans annoncer une certaine mélancolie. La sauce s'étire un peu en fin de parcours avec des titres plus monotones de 11 et 8 minutes, mais la facture brille au final par son audace. - Voir

"Moody, Mellow Marlowe"

Marlowe guitarist Joseph Donovan used to play in the Dears, and the posters around town for his shows usually say something like "featuring former members of the Dears" or "ex-Dears." The truth is that Marlowe was making records before the noisy-pop darlings came into being. The Dears, in fact, were the opening band at Marlowe's first record release show. Donovan's recording studio, the Stock Market Audio Center, produced some of the early Dears records.
Marlowe plays a tranquil, digitized pop that sometimes drifts into a mesh of space-age noise. Vocalist Alex Olsen, who doubles as DJ Polly Six, has the ultimate chick voice -- she could become a keyboard sound for basement DJ making mellow electronica -- and while it's not entirely original, it suits the starry-eyed, dreamy, drifting sound.
The band formed in 1996 and made two albums: Galax-Sea in 1998 and He is there and he's funny last year. A new album is scheduled for January. "We've taken a while to form an esthetic we are comfortable with," Donovan says. "It's finally coming along and we are starting to uncover that thing we want to say."
Exactly what they are saying is up for discussion and Donovan practically chokes when pressed. He wants to say existential, but it's too arty-catch-all, and The Human Condition was nabbed for Roberts's first EP. Marlowe plays music to stare at.
- The Ottawa Citizen


Galax-Sea: 1998
He is there & he's funny: 2003
Some excerpts of our songs are available on our website,


Feeling a bit camera shy


The Montréal-based band formed in 1996 features ex-Dears’ guitarist Joseph Donovan and Alex Olsen aka DJ Polly Six. In the two years since their return to the live scene at the Pop Montréal festival, Marlowe has played extensively, sharing the stage with Tindersticks, Broken Social Scene, The Dears, Stars, The Organ, Phaser and April March, amongst others. Marlowe has earned comparisons with "the guitar-laden epics of Spiritualized on one end and the IDM pop of Mum on the other." ( The soundtrack everyone has dreamed of, but never heard.