Marcus Alan Ward embraces artistic evolution on dense, immersive Last Night I Grew Tentacles

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The title of Last Night I Grew Tentacles, the debut full-length from Marcus Alan Ward, reflects the Cleveland-based musician’s creative development, which has seen him progress from a Led Zeppelin-obsessed teenager to someone fond of constructing warped, alien soundscapes steeped in jazz, avant-garde R&B and experimental electronica.

Though recorded in a downtown Cleveland studio, the collected songs routinely venture to far-off locales. “Like Gold,” for one, could pass for the field recording from an arctic expedition, layered with chirping electronics and an atmospheric drone that mirrors a bone-chilling wind. “Light Years,” in turn, ventures far below the earth, with Ward building a subterranean world of ambient guitar and sampled sounds that echo like water dripping from overhead stalactites.

In a way it makes sense that Ward’s songs so often feel like enclosed universes, since he grew up with a fascination for things he described as “worlds within a world,” like aquariums and terrariums.

“I’m an only child, man, and I didn’t have any brothers or sisters to hang out with, so all I did was make little universes within cardboard boxes,” said Ward, 26, who was born in Cleveland to a teacher mother and a father who worked for the city water department. “I was fascinated by terrariums, and I was always making these dioramas and little crafty things.”

He constructed Tentacles in similarly painstaking fashion over the course of six months, recording and layering different sounds — Rhodes piano, guitar, drums, bass and various computerized samples — until the songs felt at once strange and inhabitable.

Ward, who previously recorded and performed under the name Freeze-Tag, abandoned the moniker in favor of his birth name due at least in part to his growing artistic confidence, saying, “I didn’t want to hide anymore; it’s complete transparency.”

Even so, the lyrics on his latest are a mix of forthright and fabricated, and the musician said he took as much inspiration from a book on quantum physics (“Q Is for Quantum: An Encyclopedia of Particle Physics” by science writer and physicist John Gribbin) as he did his own diary pages.

“I like quantum physics because it combines the mathematical and the super scientific with an almost childhood sense of imagination, where you come up with these wild theories,” said the musician, who performs at Double Happiness on Sunday, Dec. 7.

At the same time, Ward referred to a song like “Light Years” as the most personal thing he’s ever written, and he noted he wasn’t afraid to allow a sense of vulnerability to bleed into the music.

“There aren’t many lyrics to ‘Light Years,’ but those few lines in there speak to getting older,” he said. “I miss being a child where every day was a new experience and there was so much wonder. The days were long, and you could still remember what you did yesterday. Now you look up and weeks and months have gone by.”

Similarly naked sentiments seep into “Shy,” a colorful algae bloom of a tune where the born-introvert wrestles with his tendency to overthink everything.

“There’s a line in there like, ‘A corridor in every fault that I find,’ and that’s a super personal lyric for me, because you may see a small fault in a woman or a piece of art, but in my mind that’s the one thing I’ll focus on when there’s so much more to the picture,” he said.

Ward hopes listeners take a similarly all-encompassing approach to Tentacles, absorbing the album in its entirety rather than sampling a track or two or tossing the record on shuffle.

“I think the album is a lost art form,” said Ward, who doesn’t own a digital music player and initially chose to release his latest as a single-track SoundCloud stream rather than breaking it up into individual songs. “A lot of people now are part of the shuffle generation, where they take one small moment and that’s cool for the day or the week and then it’s on to the next. I’m an album guy, so I’d rather take one experience and examine it in depth.”

Double Happiness

8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 7

482 S. Front St., Brewery District

ALSO PLAYING: Corey Grand, Gosh Pith