Before Etta Marcus could figure out who she was as an artist, she just needed a little push. It would unexpectedly come at the start of the pandemic when the singer found out she was being kicked out of jazz school – ironically, for focusing too much on her own voice and not enough on the technicalities of the genre. But this proved to be a turning point for the 21-year-old to pursue her own music. By January 2022, Marcus had picked up the pieces and written her brooding debut EP ‘View From the Bridge’, released independently to allow time for a little artistic soul-searching.
The project was the first glimmer of the voice of an artist trying to unpack a period of transition, one whose beguiling lyrics boasted the sharp storytelling prowess of Lana Del Rey and the moody self-awareness of Phoebe Bridgers. But such a distinctive and emotional style of songwriting invariably carried the risk of being named a ‘sad girl’, a restrictive label Marcus was keen to subvert on her second EP, ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’. “If anyone calls me something, I immediately want to do the opposite,” the Londoner recently told NME.
It’s no surprise, then, that ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’ – Marcus’ first release since signing with Polydor Records – finds the singer on sharper form, still grappling with the overhaul of the last three years while reflecting on the ugly demise of a relationship. “I am the bitch that broke your nose / I bet you slept with a dark red pillow,” she asserts with biting intensity on ‘Nosebleed’, deftly interweaving sinister undertones with simmering synths.
Vengeful lead single ‘Crown’ raises the pace, opening with a brisk high hat and slick guitar line before Marcus threatens to “burn down your palace” and “tear you down”. Shades of eerie, darkly poetic theatrics also trickle through closing track ‘Parting Song’, revealing a macabre lyrical twist that Marcus is actually waving from the other side (“We’re headstones on a lawn”).
‘Smile For the Camera’, meanwhile, sees Marcus still bruised from her academic failings, confessing that she “can’t even smile for the camera” at her brother’s graduation, her voice nestled in a springy, early noughties-indebted guitar riff. But it’s the title track that finds the singer at her most lyrically vulnerable. “There’s a heart shaped bruise,” she hums in a low drawl, cushioned by mellow strings and sobering violins. “In the night / I reach my hand out and feel it with my finger.”
Marcus’ second EP feels like a frosted window into the aching heart of an artist who is writing her imperfect story in real-time. By mining the core of her deepest feelings, she’s pushing towards understanding herself better.
- Release date: January 13
- Record label: Polydor
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