Album Review: Like A Shadow by Gold Connections
With the Like A Shadow EP, Gold Connections marks its second release in partnership with Richmond-based label EggHunt Records.
I had the good fortune of speaking with frontman and driving creative force Will Marsh in early 2018, around the time the Popular Fiction full-length was released, kicking off the group’s stint with EggHunt. As I listened to Popular Fiction in preparation for that conversation, I was struck by its clarity — how tightly each piece fit together, and how crisply sounds were captured. It felt like every lyric, every chorus, every gesture offered via guitar, clean and crunchy alike, was communicated with 100% efficiency. I keep imagining that this is what engineers who mix rock music dream about at night. The songs — four of which were re-recorded after having been initially rendered in collaboration with Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo and released on an earlier self-titled EP — truly sounded like themselves.
In that sense, Popular Fiction felt like a redefinition. A new starting point. With Like A Shadow, Marsh transmits an affirmation — a postcard from a traveler who is on course with a powerful wind at his back.
The sense of affirmation hits immediately. “Like A Shadow” starts with a pulsing guitar pattern, simultaneously muted and crystalline. For me, it was one of those stand-still moments — an opening passage that reveals what’s next for an artist whose previous release first grabbed you. The guitar tone there is perfection, as are the distorted tones that come in later to reinforce the verse melody. That’s one hallmark of these last two releases: a sense of studio mastery. You can hear the love Marsh, his band, and his collaborators at Chapel Hill’s Arbor Ridge Studios have for the recording process — for the possibilities it opens up and the decision-making it requires. This kind of balance doesn’t happen accidentally.
Lyrically, “Like a Shadow” takes on the idea of living with presence — an increasingly elusive objective Marsh has embodied throughout his musical life. Recording an EP in his moldy basement during his time as a student at the College of William & Mary. Opting to set off on his own instead of becoming a member of Car Seat Headrest. Reworking earlier versions of songs. Tackling mixing duties for this latest EP himself. His is the career trajectory of an artist who cares deeply about authorship. Someone who truly would “rather be a dead man than live like a shadow.”
Marsh revisits that trajectory on the retrospective “Locust Days.” You hear the fog of recollection, of frenzy, of cigarettes smoked roadside with the sun high in the sky, and a first verse that beautifully contrasts clarity with nostalgic haziness:
“Remember those shows in Richmond? / We were the laughingstock of all the girls in sharp, sharp dresses / When I played guitar, I always took it too far / The locust days are over, my god”
Marsh has a knack for delineating the past and present, which makes Gold Connections an especially thrilling band to follow. Progress is a constant. “Don’t Tell Me Your Dreams” paints a candid portrait of a musician facing a future where the personal and professional fold in on one another. “You said I sold your heart to top the charts,” he sings over a two-chord, back-and-forth verse section that beautifully mimics rumination. EPs often mark a turning point, and it feels like Marsh is letting us in on an especially intimate conversation — one that’s as internal as it is external. “Don’t show me everything you see / You’re just a mirror for everything I fear.”
Closing track “Turn” plays like a fleeting, meditative poem — shorter than the EP’s other three tracks, with a dreamier feel. Still, it contains a telling expression of Marsh’s impressive command — a high-wire act of vocal harmony that closes out the chorus and then repeats, giving you additional glances at the intricacy and degree of difficulty. The intervals he chose would be easy to mismanage. Yet Gold Connections has turned execution into a calling card.
I’ve read that the tensions present in Like A Shadow reflect recent changes in Marsh’s life, as well as current political uncertainties. “Reality was shaken and the range of possibilities was shifting,” he said. It’s remarkable that the art he’s made in response reflects such poise. When you’re good, you’re good, even when the world around you is turned upside down.