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Q turns back the clock on ‘Soul,PRESENT’

Want to feel like you’re time traveling, or rather frozen in time? Let Q take you there.

For an artist that’s represented by a single letter (whose real name is Q Marsden), its sole significance is an inkling to Q’s electric, unbound skill set. An old soul at heart, the Broward County, Florida native’s new studio album, Soul,PRESENT, is a warm wonder of ‘80s-inspired melodies, cinematic instrumentation and Thriller-esque energy that sounds as if Childish Gambino and Quincy Jones, who Q cites as a great inspiration, reincarnated into one.

Just like when Prince and Michael Jackson dominated pop music’s stratosphere at the turn of the century, the 23-year-old singer-composer seems well on his way to achieve similar acclaim. It’s shocking that an album that sounds like THIS can still make as heavy of an impact in 2023, however, that’s the beauty of music in the digital age. Nostalgia runs deep, especially when gorgeous underwater Rhodes keys and undeniable bass lines will never go out of style.

Since previous full-length efforts in Thoughts (2018), Forest Green (2019) and The Shave Experiment (2020), Q’s 2023 comeback marks a deep dive into his funk, dream pop pocket that sporadically appeared throughout his discography. Vulnerable, introspective and shimmering with undoubted jams, Soul,PRESENT leaves first-time listeners wanting more—as if the ‘80s prom night vibes weren’t enough to make you fall in love.

To explain Soul,PRESENT on the surface, imagine you’re at a roller rink or watching an episode of Stranger Things for the first time; it presents the same level of heart-filling nostalgia, but without the mangled, buzzy undertones of rehashed fodder we see all too often on indie-alt records. It’s fresh, reverent and of-the-moment despite feeling like a time capsule on first listen.

Melting headphones with warping cuts in “NOT ALONE,” “UNDERSTAND” featuring Baby Rose, “STEREO DRIVER” (which sounds as if “Africa” by Toto” evolved altogether) and more, Soul,PRESENT is undeniably infectious and brimming with personality. The album’s groovy, glistening production choices feed into Q’s intimate and SOULful performances that are more carefree and robust than clad with a care for charting. “Am I running from my fears? Am I running for my life,” he croons on the intro track, “WELCOME TO SOUL,PRESENT,” immersing you into a battle inside himself that bleeds into the love-torn, staccato key ballad “SOW.” Distant harmonies are a cornerstone of the LP, as Q’s powerhouse vocals not only invite you in, but ensnare you in a sonic spell unwavering in potency and poise.

Enveloped by luscious pads and earworming vocal stacks, “LUV” and “TODAY” are hits that would thrive 50 years ago as much as it does, well, today. Q’s performance of the latter at the 2022 BET Soul Train Awards was further evidence of his one-of-one talent, pondering better days and making mistakes, “someday we’ll be good, I pray.” It’s beautifully written, and showcases that Q’s internal qualms are validated with refined relatability that applies to all. “Constant pressure / But I press on for the future, one day,” he sings, mesmerizing with an unforgettable revelation that’s bound to last a lifetime.

Among other classic cuts, “LUV (I KNOW I WANT THIS FOR REAL)”, is packed with glimmering synths led by a bombastic, 8-bit drum pattern. Acting as a B-side counterpart to the enticing dance-floor bop “NOT ALONE,” it’s a summertime jam made for any time and place. “THE HIDE” may be the most experimental of the bunch, but proves to be an irresistible listen with thumping instrumentation and collected chaos that unearths Q’s inner voices — using this as a driver throughout the LP to illustrate greater emotional turmoil.

“I was going through a lot of personal things… [and] I was left in bed with my bare self, thinking about everything that I was going through, that I was doing. I was presented with the raw me, the rawest me. It was a very rough time. But then I was on the plane back from London to Florida, and I was dreaming and I heard a melody. That melody just shook me, and I was like, “Whoa, that was nice… While I was on the plane, ‘Soul, Present’ came to me. And it really means my soul is enough for God, and God’s presence was enough for me, because that’s all I had in that moment. I had nothing else.”

Q via Teen Vogue

Intentionality and detail are the most overwhelming features of the LP, where groovy breakdowns, gospel interpolations and bone-chilling melodies find their way into every crevice. If timeless music is your fix, Soul,PRESENT evidently cleanses your soul — and sonic pallette — no matter the era.

Listen to “Soul,PRESENT” below!