The Philadelphia duo comprising Marian Hill, Samantha Gongol and Jeremy Lloyd, have recently released their new album titled why can’t we just pretend? Together, they have made a name for themselves in the industry as a versatile electronic R&B group, often incorporating other genres such as jazz and alt-pop. Known for their bassy synth progressions and seductive vocals since their 2014 debut, this album is a testament to their continued improvement over time.
This project encompasses everything that makes a body of work worth your undivided attention: a consistent and well-thought-out theme, creative (and cohesive) instrumentation keeping listeners on their toes, and lyrical depth ranging from humorous to reflective.
Steve Davit’s contributions to the duo have always been exemplary, and why can’t we just pretend? is no different. His aptitude on the saxophone adds an element of funk and excitement to each track he graces. Acting as a subtle hard-hitter on the groovy “you’re invited,” and making a solid impact throughout the sultry “SPINNIN” alongside Bronx rapper, Kemba.
When Marian Hill constructs their eccentric rhythms, every pulse is felt. The beat on “simple” is wavy and apathetic as Samantha illustrates just how much she detests someone: “If we were stranded on an island, guess I’d have to learn to swim.” The music is bright and descends like a staircase on the chorus.
However, the most unpredictable of the eleven tracks is undoubtedly “visions of you.” It’s challenging to describe such a staggering song. The synth is metallic and shrill, constantly glitching and reappearing like flashes of thunder. The line, “You paint the ceiling of my brain” uniquely sums up the straightforward idea of thinking about someone a lot. Simply put, this song is really cool.
“Omg” is a personal favorite, mainly for its unexpectedly comedic vibe. At first, you might think it’s about seducing another person: “A private show, when you see me you’ll say, “Oh my God.” But upon further listening, her audience consists only of her fishes and pillows. Personifying animals and inanimate objects is quite an entertaining approach to self-love!
Samantha’s vocals are delicate and complemented by the other artists who helped make this album what is. On the cheeky track “oOo that’s my type,” Baby Tate adds so much personality and sauce with her adlibs. Her tone (“I’m on top like Mountain Fiji, like Riri”) is luscious and sassy. Samantha’s vocals are on even clearer display in “trippin out,” which begins with just her voice over faint speckles of sound weaving in and out. The beat swells and progressively gets more dramatic as she grills a jealous partner: “I’m not here to make love to your stresses.” True to their legacy, even the slow songs have a bite to them.
Many people long to return to a time when things didn’t feel so complicated. And the two closing tracks successfully drive this point home, particularly “pretend (2003)” featuring Tennyson. “Can we just pretend it’s 2003 / And we’re home from school and nothing’s changed” — nostalgia is painful at times because of how unattainable it is, of which you can hear represented in the brooding synth. By contrast, “it never ends” is bubbly and filled with vivacious longing to reverse the clock (“Forget we said those things we didn’t mean”). It ends abruptly, but is still a satisfying change of pace.
Songs exploring delusion, bad endings, and rocky love affairs are some of the album’s biggest talking points. Filled to the brim with peculiar choices, why can’t we just pretend? is a feat only the likes of Marian Hill could pull off so well.