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Amber Mark's 'Three Dimensions Deep' turns grief into undeniable beauty

Singer-songwriter and producer Amber Mark questions the nature of her existence on debut album <em>Three Dimensions Deep</em>.
Nelson Huang
Singer-songwriter and producer Amber Mark questions the nature of her existence on debut album Three Dimensions Deep.

In her relentless pursuit for answers from the cosmos, Amber Mark finds firm footing on Three Dimensions Deep, her debut full-length album. The questions she poses by way of a sample in the opening track — "How long will I have to endure? How long will I have to suffer?" — point toward her persistent need to decipher the meaning of life.

Mark's desire to consistently question the nature of her existence and grief is what drives her, but it's also something that makes the singer-songwriter and producer's music so deeply relatable. With the release of her "mini-album," 2017's meditative 3:33am, Mark tapped into the innermost thoughts shared by anyone who's ever lost a loved one, through death or separation. 3:33am's standout single, the heartrending "Monsoon," featured the voice of Mark's late mother, who passed away in 2013.

While the feelings of uncertainty that Mark works through on Three Dimensions Deep are universal, there's a fierceness in Mark that is singular. Her life adventures thus far have been varied, a result of the multi-talented musician living with her German mother, who herself was a visual artist, in disparate places like Miami, Berlin and India. Those experiences paint themselves across Mark's discography, and her new album, which bursts with a technicolor assortment of influences, is no different.

"One," the aforementioned intro, sees Mark speaking directly to her mother, flowing over a hip-hop adjacent beat that brims with bright horns and evocative soul samples. "I don't know if I'll ever succeed / I just want you proud of me, up above," Mark sings. "Don't forget that I will never give up." The song rings out, triumphant and vulnerable at once, setting the tone for the coming tracks.

But instead of centering the entire album around the mourning of her mother, as she previously did on 3:33am, Mark expands out. She dives headfirst into the musical vastness that she experimented with on past efforts, taking the diverse components of her foundation and ambitiously building upon them. The single "What It Is" sounds ostensibly like an amorous love song, but it dips into the artist's constant grapple with the purpose of humanity: "Wanna be free, so God tell me, please — is it in the stars? / Feel it in my bones, oh, I've got to know — tell me what it is." The ethereality of her voice is multiplied by layered harmonies, giving the effect of a choir that has swapped out gospel for dense R&B.

Describing the overall album as "a musical journey of what questions you begin to ask yourself when you start looking to the universe for answers," Mark is guided by the amorphousness of spirituality as much as she is by quantum physics and hard science. And between those opposite sides of the spectrum of belief lies an innate curiosity that delves into the ebb and flow of mortality.

A sense of wonder boosts Mark's every query, but her inquisitiveness never gets the best of her. Instead, she calculates an intentional balance, compartmentalizing her emotions and dealing with them as they come. Songs like "Most Men" showcase the at times gravelly nature of Mark's voice, isolated and reverberating in its solitude as she sings about the timeless issue of infidelity. "Healing Hurts," which sounds initially like an old-school soul single, launches into a trap-tinged R&B backdrop, giving Mark the opportunity to admit how she truly feels about the recovery process, post-breakup. "Every single minute kills me, I know I'm healing," Mark sings, a desperate, yet sustained, rasp to her voice. "But healing hurts right now."

The dancehall-influenced songs of the album, "Softly" and "Bubbles," allow Mark, who's half-Jamaican, to honor her roots, while folding these efforts into the entirety of the album. Propelled by a danceable house beat, "FOMO" features Mark singing about overcoming a feeling familiar to everyone in 2022: the fear of missing out. While the track may seem superficial on its surface, Mark pulls her mother's presence back into the forefront. "Oh mama, please talk to me," she sings, passionately, searching for answers to her contemporary questions.

With her wisdom-filled lyrics, Mark is able to direct listeners back to her inspiration, encouraging us to believe in ourselves and our own paths, and those who have helped place us on them. "Competition," a song that deals with the comparison trap that comes with perpetually competing with one's peers, continues that notion. There's clear tension within the song before it explodes into a full, celebratory experience. "You are not the opposition / I just wanna see you win," she sings. "Don't put me in this position."

In the music video for album highlight "Foreign Things," Mark spends a majority of the visuals turning up and living a lavish life, luxuriating in a mansion with friends. But the last minute and a half of the video features Mark running along a dark, empty road, looking back at her guests playfully, as a woman narrates a theory in German about everyone and everything being made of "star stuff," a concept popularized by the late astronomer Carl Sagan.

Shortly after Mark catches her breath, she's struck by a car, and shown laying on the ground, with glowing elements around her, and piercing, wholly illuminated eyes. It speaks partially to Mark's self-professed obsession with the Nickelodeon animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the superhuman "Avatar State" the main character, Aang, seeks to enter. It's a conditional, temporary way of living that allows Aang to connect with cosmic energy, and former Avatars who have since passed. In her own way, Mark is illustrating her desire to regain access to her mother and her advice, as well as the source of all creation, two focal points that power the album.

"Event Horizon," the final track, is Mark's opportunity to reach upwards, toward a heaven we hope is there. Atmospheric production, patient guitar, and contemplative keys hover around Mark's vocals, buoying her gently toward a purposeful resolution that's reflective of her mission. By allowing her music to be the carrier of her story, Amber Mark invests in the continuation of her legacy. With the multitudinous Three Dimensions Deep, she pans in and out of existential questions and matters of the heart, turning grief — of a failed relationship, a lost parent — into undeniable beauty.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kiana Fitzgerald is a freelance music journalist, cultural critic, and DJ. She writes for the world from deep in the heart of Texas.
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