For some, a lengthy lockdown could be a period of rest, but for Marlon Williams, it was one of reinvention. At the start of the pandemic, the agile performer with the smooth croon was coming off a marathon of touring his 2018 record Make Way for Love (ND review) and multiple film and television projects. Back home in his native New Zealand, he immersed himself in the sounds of Duran Duran and Perfume Genius, and utilized his acting skills to try on different characters for size. What results is My Boy, a new set of songs from Williams that absorbs all these experiences and influences and shoots them back out as shimmering rainbows of light. A breezy collection of danceable tunes, My Boy listens like a breath of fresh air.
Williams’ sound has, until now, been rooted somewhere in the tangle of country music, but as anyone who has ever caught a live show can attest, his inclination toward dance music and pop was always there. My Boy goes big with this sound, from the big, splashy “River Rival” exploding with euphoric “ooohs” to the sexy, slinking groove “Don’t Go Back” and the anthem “Thinking of Nina” with its glossy ‘80s aesthetic, complete with synth, Wurlitzer, and Mellotron.
A cover of the Bee Gees’ disco ballad “Promises” proves a powerful closer, perfectly suited to Williams’ rich voice. Warmth comes through in details like the lap steel and blissful percussion of “Morning Crystals” (a song that might be at home on Paul Simon’s The Rhythm of the Saints), and the acoustic guitar riff of the album’s title track.
Williams explores themes of gender and masculinity, friendship and sex in the digital age across the songs on My Boy, in the role play of father and son on “My Heart the Wormhole,” the mythologizing “Princes Walk,” and hooky, primal “Soft Boys Make the Grade.” The lushness of these arrangements, the interwoven Maori language, and the gorgeous androgyny of Williams’ tone lend an otherworldliness to the sweaty, breathless affirmations of love and connection that make up this fever dream of an album.
Marlon Williams’ My Boy is out Sept. 9 on Dead Oceans.