To say that Chan Marshall has been through some rough stuff would be an understatement.
She’s struggled with drugs, alcohol and depression. She’s spent time hospitalized and in rehab. She’s faced bankruptcy, and, this March, the end of a four-year relationship with actor Giovanni Ribisi, who married model Agyness Deyn a mere three months later. It’s been almost five years since she released her last studio album, long years when she was invariably dealing with all of the above—and somehow, in that time, she managed to record an album’s worth of novel material.
But this isn’t the angsty, introspective Cat Power the indie crowd have come to know. Instead, Sun represents Marshall’s new, dynamic, cathartic approach to music—and is her most lively, uplifting album to date. Guitars have been replaced by layer upon layer of vigorous synth, pounding bass, drum loops and atmospheric tricks. Her vocals are thickly-packed, ensconced by beats that seem suspiciously danceable. It’s a work that is entirely self-produced; every line and layer is played by Miss Marshall herself, despite never having received any professional training.
And yet, coupled with her raw, ethereal voice, the production never veers to excess, and the album remains surprisingly minimalist. Despite the many layers of sound, it never feels overproduced. Rather than reaching overt optimism or joy, Sun remains at a state of reflective empowerment. In “Ruin,” a bright, funky track propelled by the rhythmic momentum of piano and drums, Marshall sings of the numerous places in the world she’s traveled and concludes that the best ruin is the one she’s always been sitting on. In the rousing, life-affirming 11-minute epic “Nothin’ But Time,” Marshall chants an inspirational hymn, spouting off streams of encouragement, to both the audience and, one imagines, herself.
“Never give in,” she sings. “You want to live and be somebody.” She emboldens each of us “to be a superhero,” yet reassures us we “ain’t got nothin’ but time.” On the sidelines, Iggy Pop barks supportive cheers. It’s a far cry from the woman who once sang, 6 years ago on her album The Greatest, “I hate myself and I want to die.”
At age 40, Marshall now lives in Miami with French Bulldogs Mona and Abuelo. She has, by the way, been sober for quite a time now. As Sun closes with the hippie garage-rock anthem “Peace and Love,” it seems as if Marshall, too, has finally accepted change and found her peace—and she’s never sounded better.