The lyrics “if it feels right, it probably is,” close Steady Circuits’ (aka Denver transplant Mike Marchant’s) new double album One of Many Ends of One of Many Worlds. Throughout its nearly hour-long playtime, it does feel right.
Many Worlds exists within the concept album sphere, once a mainstay of rock (which even had a bit of a resurgence in the aughts thanks to bands like The Mars Volta and Coheed & Cambria) seemingly lost to iTunes singles downloads and Spotify streams. Here, however, Marchant’s tale features a man attempting to eavesdrop on the International Space Station—then accidentally receiving this entire album from an unknown source in outer space.
In the printed narrative that comes along with the physical CD or cassette (yes, cassette), the spaceman who made Many Ends of One of Many Worlds is...Marchant himself, but rather than touting how he produced the songs in his home studio, dubbed, awesomely, Cloud Command, during the pandemic—as he actually did—the story claims they were made in space as Marchant fled Earth and its problems. Most often, he makes music under the moniker Lightning Cult.
Steady Circuits is its own thing.
“It’s a nod to the analog synths with which I made the records,” Marchant tells SFR. “I am the only member, and I made the records in my small home studio during the peak of the pandemic.”
But don’t let the details bog you down. Just listen.
You’d never know Marchant produced the record alone. He plays synthesizers, keyboards, drum machines, guitars, percussion, melodica—and melodeon!—and sings. What is apparent, however, is a psychedelic, unearthly sound. Many Worlds sounds like Marchant traveled through unknown universes, to countless planets, and learned to use the local styles—planets for Coldplay, surf rock, pop punk, video game and vampires, to name a few; songs have distinct feels, but one mood remains prevalent especially across the album’s first two acts: triumph.
There is a sense of joyful playfulness that feels as if it could only be crafted in the isolation of space (or, perhaps, while being locked down amidst a pandemic): A man looks down at the world and sees not only its problems, from which he has escaped, but the joy of freedom, of having an entire life stretching out before him. Many Worlds is permeated with that—freedom from the world, yes, but maybe also the constraints of gravity; of choosing and executing a singular genre or instrument.
“Alone Here, Mostly,” exemplifies this idea best. Go figure—Marchant sings casually over a chiptune-esque beat that sounds as if it were ripped from Donkey Kong Country. But then it explodes into the chorus, the best, but too-few, fleeting seconds of the album’s five acts. Split between two ears in a clever use of stereo, it sounds like Marchant has 10 things going at once. This, too, is common on the record; it’s more than worth a listen with headphones.
Elsewhere, Marchant makes satisfying use of noise rock tenets with synth harp, retro-futuristic computer beeps and boops and grungily distorted background sounds, all of which enrich the spacey vibe. Some songs could leave the listener wanting more, such as the synth harp on “Travelers.” As Marchant sings on the late-album track “Habitat Two,” “I’m not quite over it,” even if he was.
While wanting more isn’t the worst way to feel about a song, sometimes songs such as “Be a Body,” err toward too long and repetitive. Here, it feels, Marchant gets stuck in orbit. It’s a minor complaint, especially on a long drive, and as a whole, Many Worlds feels custom-made to enjoy while traversing a desert, pretending to rocket through outer space or even just while driving.
If you like Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” Marchant’s newest is probably a good fit. And even if you don’t, pop-heads should give “Alone Here, Mostly” a try, while those who prefer things a bit heavier should sample, “Sparks.”
If any of these feel right, the rest of the album should, too.