Arriving hot on the heels of his 2015 album Rozy Maze – a sanguine dream of McCartney pop, 1960s movie soundtrack sparkle with stoned Beach Boys melodies – I'm Willing sees Marker Starling move further away from his previous guise, Mantler, under which he released four cult acclaimed albums on German imprint Tomlab. "I wanted to make an album that would contrast strongly with my previous one," explains Marker, who grew up listening to Miles Davis between episodes of Sesame Street. "It was my first time making a record outside of Toronto, and without any of my usual collaborators." The opportunity had come up to make a record in a small studio on the fringes of Paris with Laetitia Sadier producer Emmanuel Mario (aka Astrobal), "so naturally I wanted to make that happen! But I only had two months before the session, and I quickly had the idea to make an all-covers record, which had been a long-simmering idea of mine."
The result is a tender patchwork essay on the nature of love that, across 10 spell-binding covers, adventures through ecstatic proto-disco ("For Real," originally by Flowers), Brazilian Tropicalia (Caetano Veloso's "Lost In The Paradise"), spiritual jazz (Doug Hammond's "Moves") and other eclectic sounds. Stereolab's Sadier turns up on a rendition of Bobby Cole's "Perfect Day" that dials down the scatty fervor of the original in favor of something more svelte. Marker found songs took on different meanings from the romance of the originals, shaped by events in his life. "Every time you walk my way, I know love is only moments away," he sings on "For Real," but he may also be singing about his infant child.
"Most of these songs are over 35 years old. I tried to make a unified album out of other people's songs," explains Marker. "I have a tendency towards schmaltzy 1960s pop with slightly over-egged arrangements, done right of course, and unjustly maligned forms of music such as 1970s jazz funk and so-called smooth jazz" – genres, he says, have been written off, but deserve critical and cultural renaissances. "Romance is writ large in jazz!" "Let's forget all our troubles and sorrows," sings Marker on the album's defiantly upbeat closing track, a cover of Brazilian MPB mainstay Ivan Lins. "This is the smiling hour." Warm, wise and wonderful, the beautiful I'm Willing will put a grin on your face that long outlasts 60 minutes.