Words by:
Photography: Anya Rose

This is Signing Off, our year-end series with the artists who defined 2023

For multidisciplinary artist and musician Jasper Marsalis, a.k.a Slauson Malone 1, his second album Excelsior represents a rebirth. Following the release of his debut LP, A Quiet Farewell, 2016-18 (Crater Speak), Marsalis, then performing simply as Slauson Malone, experienced a prolonged period of anxiety, isolation and reassessment. During that time, he moved from New York City to Los Angeles. In doing so, he lost a community but found the “flatness” and silence he’d been seeking.

In this new environment, Marsalis meditated on masculinity, settling on the metaphor of Excelsior for his new project – the sword that grows perpetually until it slices the world in half. Marsalis used this representation of traditional masculinity’s destructive nature as the jumping-off point the album grappling with complex, nuanced realities. It unfolds as a collection of personal vignettes, masterful in its use of fragmented vocals and empty space, giving it an eerie, post-apocalyptic aura. Disparate sounds like hip-hop, psych rock, dubbed out electronics and orchestral composition are stitched together by recurring descending minor thirds and drum rolls.

Dystopian smog has undoubtedly suffocated 2023. But as things have fallen apart around us, art has been a force for unity, and the possibility of reinvention – of new futures – has defined the musical mood. For Marsalis, it’s about exploring a form of “apocalyptic optimism”.

Crack: Excelsior introduces us to Slauson Malone 1. How does he differ from Slauson Malone?

I have a different relationship with myself. It’s borne out of the feeling of not having a sense of control or ownership over your own identity. A friend of mine was in a pretty bad record deal. So I jokingly asked him, “What if you just added ‘one’ at the end of your name?” Because then technically you retain the identity,  but legally, you’re a different entity. This was a way for me to reclaim my artistic identity. I hope that one day someone is like, “Why is there a ‘one’? Where’s ‘two’ or ‘three’? Where’s the original?”

You moved cross-country when Excelsior was recorded. How was that transition, and how did it shape the album?

One of the most important aspects of art is community; losing that and then having to find it again was the hardest part. But I’d also been seeking this utopian lifestyle that I think Los Angeles is so known for – this almost apocalyptic optimism. You know, it’s the last major city of western expansion. In the record, you hear this weird, eerie silence, or eerie boringness. This horizon line. It was a feeling that I had been chasing.

So the move to LA allowed breathing space?

And flatness, because New York is so vertical and clustered. I wrote this really angsty line in my journal some years ago: “I just want to look at a horizon!” Each song on Excelsior seems to represent a different chapter, or essay. It was very much an accumulation, for better or worse – like hoarding, almost. In a certain sense, I feel the music can be a bit sickening because of how much stuff is packed into it. I initially started with two songs that were each meant to be 15 minutes long. Then those songs kept dividing and splitting, and then I was building in these musical intervals. There’s a descending minor third that keeps recurring throughout the album, there’s a recurring drum roll.

Excelsior is the name of a mystic sword that keeps growing and growing until it ultimately cleaves the world in two. What drew you to this?

I was in a very masculine community when I was in New York. Everything eventually falling apart made me analyse my own position in it. I started working on this record as a way of meditating on some of those experiences. The sword is like the ultimate cliched symbol for what we understand masculinity to be, because it’s so phallic. Its assumed strength is from its ability to destroy.

On Joy you explore the pleasure in submission. Has it been empowering for you to embrace a more nuanced version of masculinity?

Absolutely. I think for me, it goes beyond any ‘inity’, you know what I mean? That’s where I’ve been able to find a sense of joy – not feeling like I have to pledge allegiance to any group. I’m in a fairly new place with it all.

Has this all-embracing approach defined your 2023?

Yes! Influences often appear in the dumbest things, like a door wedge, rock or blinking light.

Has discovery been a theme of 2023 for you? How has that translated to your music?

Trusting my body to influence compositional decisions, like feeling this in my arm or liver.

If you could sum up 2023 in five words, what would they be?

Joy, cucumber, fission, wedge, errantry.

What is your hope for 2024?

I hope that we can be better listeners. That’s about music, but it’s also about politics.