Amber Mark’s debut album Three Dimensions Deep is being released at a strangely auspicious time, in light of Damon Albarn’s ill-considered claim that Taylor Swift “doesn’t write her own songs,” saying that “there’s a big difference between a songwriter and a songwriter who co-writes.” Besides the obvious sexism at play, Albarn (and others like him) overlook the fruitfulness of collaboration and the wider scope that can be achieved when artists work together, rather than indulging in possibly navel-gazing solo notions.
While a handful of songs are written by Mark alone (“Most Men,” “On & On,” “Darkside” and “Event Horizon”), Three Dimensions Deep is all the more impressive for its cohesion in sound and message despite the number of collaborators at play, including Jeff Gitelman (Anderson .Paak, The Weeknd, Jorja Smith) and Julian Bunetta (One Direction, Leona Lewis, Jason Derulo). The 17-track record is divided into three acts-without, withheld and within—and draws a considerable amount of inspiration from Mark’s recent interest in astrophysics.
The sultry R&B album’s most profound moments emerge when the New York-based singer searches for deeper meaning within herself and others. As she said in a press release, “I can only go as deep as the third dimension as that’s how we see the world, but what about when you start looking to the universe within for answers.”
Nearly every love song on Three Dimensions Deep elevates romance to the cosmic level. Mark recognizes not only the teeming universe within herself, but also the multitudes contained in others. “Big Bang making type of high / Your astronomical kiss / Constellations shoot sensations through me to the sky,” Mark sings on the thumping, soul-infused number “Darkside,” later confessing, “When I died / Your atmosphere brought me back to life.” The futuristic “Out of This World,” which starts out sounding like a broadcast from a distant galaxy, has Mark declaring, “You are out of this world / Way down south past Saturn.” The next track, “Cosmic,” compounds the point over layered, angelic vocals: “Your breathing on my neck, it takes me / To another planet. “ On the penultimate track “Bliss,” which throbs with capital-F Fat beats, she finds the celestial in sexual connection: “Conversations sexual tension / Taking me to new dimensions / Outer space / Nights at my place.” Carl Sagan’s famous line that “we’re made of star stuff” may feel cheesy at times, like something from a 2011 Tumblr post, but Mark’s sincere approach and delivery make you want to hit reblog nonetheless.
The idea that the answers we seek, even those mind-bogglingly big ones, all lie within ourselves is woven throughout the record, from the very first track. When Mark struggles with self-doubt on the bouncy opener “One,” a distorted voice answers her, fuzzy as if from some lost radio transmission: “What you seek, you will find when you look inside / All these things on your mind just a waste of time.” “What It Is,” which Mark deems the “title track of the album without it actually being the title track,” finds her contemplating existential questions over neon synth and funky bass: “Life really takes its toll / What is the point of it all?” Even if she doesn’t fully realize it during the fledgling moments of her journey, she already possesses the remedy deep within herself (“Feel it in my bones / Oh I gotta know / Tell me what it is”) and humankind at large (“You and I are one in the same / Dust from a heart to a flame”).
That’s not to say every lyric on the album is a thing of musical genius. Some tracks, like “Bubbles” and “Turnin’ Pages,” can be a bit repetitive, but that’s also par for the course when it comes to pop. The line “Tis the season of cuff” on the old-school R&B track “Softly” is pretty funny once you think about it, like some Dickensian person telling you to settle down, but Mark’s incandescent voice sells it so well that you don’t notice it in the moment. No matter what lyrical missteps may occur, her vocals are so sublime that you’re willing to forgive them. The entirety of the record is built on Mark’s talent as a singer—once again, the answers lie within—and the emotion she instils in every word.
Three Dimensions Deep will doubtless make it onto many a Spotify playlist; the record boasts club-ready bops and chill bangers that can please almost any aural palate. When you dig beneath the surface, though, Mark imparts universal wisdom and gives listeners a much-needed moment to appreciate ourselves.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.