If I gave you thirty seconds to come up with as many sub-genres
of techno music as possible, how would you score? 10? 25? 100?
There’s really no limit to the tiring number of classifications that
constantly dissect electronic music, based on something as simple as
a particular style of synth, tempo or cadence. Some artists love to
fill those pre-determined roles, and it can certainly make for some
intriguing listening, but every now and then a dude like Martyn totally
shakes things up, the finest Holland-to-DC import since Olaf Kolzig
signed to the Washington Capitals (actually, he was German, so Martyn
reigns supreme). His is a music both propulsive and calm, emotional
and steely, danceable and contemplative. His remix of TRG’s “Broken
Heart” is a perfect example of the awesome contradiction his music
implies: cold, smooth dubstep with a soft human touch. His roots may
be in jungle and drum n’ bass, but across a variety of 12″s and remixes
the sound of Martyn has grown more difficult to place but easier to
enjoy. Now, on the verge of dropping his debut full-length album ‘Great
Lengths’ on his 3024 label (in stores April 20th), Martyn is entering new
territory but making himself as comfortable as ever, just like that trip
across the Atlantic.
You’ve recently completed your debut album. Did you approach the
composing/mixing any differently because its an album instead of a
Yes, first of all I set a timeframe to write the album in, and I wrote
a lot of tracks for it of which some didn’t make it onto the final
version. Obviously a 12″ is a much shorter sort of affair, easy to
oversee. Since this is my first album it was quite a daunting task at
times. But I learned a lot from it. I really wanted to try and make
the album sound like a good “story” in terms of how the tracks
progress, so in that sense the composing was different than for a 12″.
What was your timeframe for writing the album?
I made sketches for tracks when time allowed me to, but the real work
was done in about 4 and a half months.
Anything you preferred about making an album that you normally
wouldn’t or couldn’t do on a single?
Oh yes, you have a lot of time to expand in any direction you want to
take the music in. Since I focused purely on the album for a few
months, it was great to be able to sit down in the studio and
experiment a bit more with melodies, vocals, etc, and take my sound a
I can’t wait to hear it. Do you think you’ll approach writing a single
differently now, because of your experience making the album?
Well obviously I learned a thing or two from making this album, which
you will hopefully hear back in future 12″s or remixes.
How important is the artwork or packaging that accompanies a record to
you? Do you care about vinyl as an artifact, or simply a medium to
I love vinyl, but I buy a lot of music in whatever format it comes in,
either vinyl, cd or digital. Out of these three vinyl has the most
possibilities when it comes to artwork. When I shop for records
myself, there’s a good few labels I buy not only for the music but
also for the artwork. In these days people haven’t got that much money
to spend every week on records, so in our (3024) case, we really like
to give them a great “product”, two original sounding tracks and a
beautiful sleeve for their money.
What do you think of life in the US? How long have you lived here now?
Any culture shock?
I had been traveling to the US for a few years already so I had a very
gradual sort of culture shock I suppose. I live here permanently now
for about 8 months, and I must say I’m enjoying myself. It’s funny
that the more you get to know the ins and outs of American culture and
way of thought, the further it seems to be away from Dutch culture.
Living in America also changed how I see the country I lived in for so
long (The Netherlands), view the culture and the people from a
distance, and discover things about yourself you would’ve not found
out if you would not have stepped out of the box. It was a very
exciting time to be near Washington DC in the final stages of the
elections, to see how politics work in this country, and the definite
change of vibe and the positivity that the election results have
brought this area and others all over the country.
How did it change your perception of the Netherlands?
I wouldn’t necessary say I love or hate it more now, it’s just that
I’ve learned things about the dutch “psyche”, the way people perceive
things differently because of their surroundings. Just to name an
example, The Netherlands is a very small country with a lot of people,
we have been occupied with finding solutions to problems with space
(living/working/infrastructure) for a long time, resulting in thinking
up systems for everything. In lots of aspects of Dutch life, from how
tax forms are arranged to the way we play football – you can see
this systematic way of thinking. An American has a completely
different perception of space as you can imagine, the way he
would approach a problem would therefor be quite different.
How are your crowds in the US? Did you have any preconceived notions
that were proven or disproven?
Not really, before my first US gig I had played in various European
countries. Europe’s already a patchwork of clubbing cultures so I went
to the US without preconceived notions. I think the crowds differ
hugely, some cities have vibrant scenes (like San Francisco, LA, New
York and others) and in other cities the actual amount of people
following this music is small and still in a building up phase.
Do you think the US will ever approach Europe in terms of popularity
and appreciation of electronic dance music?
I think electronic music will never be as embedded in the culture as
it is in Europe, however, I think the US has a very big group of people
who would potentially be open to new music and get excited about
new music – when approached at the right moment in time and
through the right channels. So I think the US will become a lot more
pivotal for dance music in the near future.
Can you name me one modern single that you think has been criminally
underlooked, from any other artist?
Wow that’s an impossible question! There’s so much music around that
could do with a bit more attention, but let me name Mike Slott who is
a real talented artist on a very melodic sort of instrumental hip hop
vibe. Make sure to check him out.
Awen The Bells Before Dawn LP (Dais)
Super dark, history-inspired industrial folk from Dallas natives Awen. The main vocalist and conspirator Erin Powell sings with the hilariously deep voice of one of those old trees in Lord Of The Rings or basically any fantasy film that involves giant talking oaks. That’s not a diss though, because he really owns that voice and I’ve always been a sucker for a good Gira-style bellowing. The Bells Before Dawn works especially great as an album, as you really need the softer cuts to balance the crushing percussion marches, even though the whole thing is really bleak and quietly violent. This sort of super-serious occult vibe is a tough one to pull off in a convincing way, but Dais in particular seems to revel in this sort of vaguely fetishistic darkness, a label that knows how to present the absurd with a cool seriousness. As a guy who doesn’t own a single black uniform, I can say that Awen is totally believable and that The Bells Before Dawn succeeds, human skull percussion and all.
Beni My Love Sees You 12″ (Kitsune)
The gleefully obnoxious, post-Justice Euro house style is just something anyone would want to be a part of: songs that are equally silly, catchy and loud played by class clowns in designer leather and stupid neon. Beni made his way there, and while the song “My Love Sees You” is a pretty standard non-peak time nu-disco number, this sort of iconic cover art might be enough to prop Beni to a global stature. It’s pictured small here, but please do yourself a favor and at least check it out on the Kitsune site if not in a store, as this creepy-but-loving heart really does see you. If this guy doesn’t at least have his own comic book or Adult Swim show by the summer, something is seriously wrong. Just look at those sneakers. This 12” has the original and three remixes that don’t really change the nature of the track too much, in all its Rapture bass and repetition, and would probably not even pass on my radar if it wasn’t for that goddamned heart guy. My love sees you too, buddy.
Blank Dogs Seconds 12″ (Captured Tracks)
I reached my Blank Dogs quota early last year; it’s not that I dislike any of his material, but more that I simply had my fill of his home-recorded post-punk melancholia. Then Mr. Blank Dog started this cool-looking new label Captured Tracks and well, I caved, figuring I’d see how things were going now that he put another six or seven records under his belt. Seconds isn’t the best Blank Dogs material I’ve heard, but it’s still four tracks that maintain his supremacy over the multitude of recent imitators. There’s a live drummer on some of the stuff here, so that’s something different I guess, and while most of Seconds sounds slightly limper than the earlier material, a song like “The Threes” still works with a hook that, like it or not, finds a way to wedge itself into your brain. By no means the definitive Blank Dogs release (Diana (The Herald) 12″?), but it’s nice enough that I am satisfied with my purchase.
Cro Magnon Cro Magnon 7″ (Bruit Direct)
I saw Circuit Des Yeux live once, the solo venture of one half of Cro Magnon, and it was uncomfortable, not in a shocking or artistic way, more like a “maybe you should’ve just kept this to yourself” kind of thing. I couldn’t help but think it would’ve sounded better with more than one person wigging out, and I now have that with Cro Magnon, two young ladies whose tantrums compliment each other quite nicely. This is a three-song single but the total running time seems to be about three minutes as well, as the first two songs attempt punk rock in a hasty fashion, performed with a forcefulness and lack of dexterity that rivals Menstruation Sisters. The b-side drifts in a similar fashion to Circuit Des Yeux’s debut album, with stairwell vocals and formless guitar, but I found it far more palatable and interesting. It must help to have an extra set of hands to work those loop pedals or punch a set of wind-chimes. Or maybe it’s just the fact that they actually bothered to get this record mastered at a place that has done Chris Isaak and Primus records (seriously), unlike so many of their lo-fi peers who are content to go direct from boombox to laquer, so that this cluttered mass of sound rips out of the speakers on this wonderfully loud piece of vinyl.
Dum Dum Girls Yours Alone 12″ (Captured Tracks)
I wouldn’t really be doing my job properly as an unpaid white male internet music critic if I didn’t pan Dum Dum Girls, who on paper seem to be the perfect modern-day indie-pop Frankenstein: Jesus and Mary Chain worship played by a Vivian-esque girl who listens to Blank Dogs in one headphone and Crystal Stilts in the other. It’s so contemporary, and specific, and begging for a backlash before the hype, but well, it’s really great, too. Dee Dee (the sole Dum Dum Girl) has a great voice, can write a great hook, and uses the lo-fi recording to her advantage, blurring out the flaws and highlighting her strengths. It’s only just guitar, drums and vocals, but things are layered nicely and it feels like an actual artist at work making sweet songs with the confidence so many home-tapers seem to lack or avoid discussing. Sure, we probably won’t hit the one-year anniversary of her MySpace page before Pitchfork asks her about her ringtone, but that doesn’t matter when the songs are as fun and pretty as these.
Ed Solo / JFB Watch Your Eyes / Time Collapse 12″ (Sludge)
Dear God, Ed Solo. What have you done. “Watch Your Eyes” is the heaviest track I’ve heard probably ever, move over Sepultura and Goatsnake and Rob Gee. Starts off simple and unassuming, and yet each time it kicks in I am still shocked at just how rude and epic this sounds, even on tiny pair of JBLs. I bet this guy just never leaves his room, destroys everyone on Xbox 360 in one of those violent RPGs and just finds new and horrible ways to make the most robust and massive dubstep possible. If only guitars could sound this vital and ugly. JFB has the sad position to be the Jihad to Ed Solo’s Ottawa, with a pretty cool track that is heavy in its own right, but really will forever be overshadowed. Kind of a mutated James Bond vibe on “Time Collapse”, even though most of the time listening to it I’m still recalling the physical power and guts of “Watch Your Eyes”.
Gary War Zontag 7″ (Sacred Bones)
It’s tough being weird these days but Gary War seems to be having a blast. His album New Raytheonport debuted last fall, turning internet heads with his effortless 70s AM radio / private-press / freaky sound. Now we’ve got a new two-songer on Sacred Bones, and I might even prefer it. These songs were recorded in 2006, which I’d imagine predates his LP sessions, and they carry with them a bit more urgency, with an almost proto-punk churn found deep below his mutated library music and vocals that must have a daisy chain of at least half a dozen pedals modifying his voice. This isn’t a breakfast record like New Raytheonport sometimes is, this is Gary fully-dressed and waiting for the bus. Already being a fan, I paid an extra dollar for the limited version and I feel justified by the nicely screened cover, as Sacred Bones is nothing if not a label that takes pride in the presentation of its releases. I have a feeling Gary War is about to flood the market with a variety of new records, tapes and whatever (attn: bands, you’re allowed to say no to a label once in a while), so I am hoping he can keep up the quality he’s given us so far.
Hatred Surge Isolated Human 7″ (Painkiller)
Another quality serving of modern power-violence here from two reliable sources, Hatred Surge and Painkiller Records. Perhaps Hatred Surge’s most straightforward record, Isolated Human is bookended with a couple noise selections and otherwise treads through six tracks of grindcore that seems just as indebted to the mid-90s West Coast (Despise You, Crom) as mid-80s UK (Extreme Noise Terror, Napalm Death). I’m not as partial to this sort of thing when you can actually understand the lyrics, preferring an unintelligible belch to vocalist Faiza Kracheni’s perfectly enunciated words, but what can you do. All six songs move by fast, and while it’s not a must-own, Isolated Human is a well-executed hardcore record that succeeds where many others have failed.
Herpes Komm Vorbei 12″ (Fin Du Monde)
I dug their MySpace tracks and the name is obnoxious enough that I paid the international shipping for a copy of the second record by this Berlin punk-wave group. Guitar, drums, vocals and a synth that can only bloop (no bleeps) cut through seven short songs, with all lyrics in Deutsch to really give it that ZickZack vibe. I haven’t found any hit songs on here, more of a consistent sound that is cool but probably won’t have me remembering to throw this on, unless someone comes over and mentions that they got herpes or something. Reminds me of Masshysteri in a way, in that both bands pretty much nail the classic sound they are going for but create no memorable tunes in the process.
Insayngel Insayngel LP (Heavy Tapes)
Don’t let the name mislead you, this isn’t some forgotten Metal Blade group from 1986. Insayngel is an excellent collaboration between Sightings’ rhythm section and two characters from Excepter. I’ve always loved Sightings (they just keep getting better, too) and Excepter have been my companion for a few horrible late night car rides, so I was looking forward to this one and it delivers. The two Sightings guys do their usual thing with the busy clanging drums and athletic, perverse bass lines. I love this stuff with Mark Morgan, and it provides just as suitable a backdrop for Calder Martin and Caitlin Cook to whoop it up. They seem super comfortable working together and all really own their sounds, which is nice in a world of wannabes who are too timid to really throw down like this. Five long tracks, ending on a slow burner that is probably the most satisfying track; just roll your eyes back into your skull and enjoy.
Pillow Talk Downtown Unga Wunga 7″ (Columbus Discount)
If you were waiting for one of these new synth-punk bands to stop hiding under the covers and actually offer some sense of humor and personality, allow me to recommend Pillow Talk and their debut 7” single. They’re working with an early Subterranean Records sort of urgent disgust, like a goofier Nervous Gender but without losing that underlying menace. Six songs and a “skit” here, and they move quickly from one into the next. Rudimentary drum machine / synth, but it sounds good and works well with the Surfin’ Bird vocalist who forgot to write lyrics for at least two of these songs (supplemented with varying degrees of “yeah!”, which is actually cooler in practice than in theory). Could be a tossed-off side project or something we’ll hear more from, but either way this single is satisfying in its self-awareness and stands above the pack.
Radikal Guru Rudeboy Skank 12″ (Dubbed Out)
Classic soundsystem cuts edited and mixed into a monolith of dubstep bass and modern grooves. Oppressively heavy, “Rudeboy Skank” is a phenomenal overhaul of reggae into the modern age of PA-busting dubstep, littered with a variety of blips and clicks that keep this sort of underground electronic music ahead of the curve of anything else that professes to be cool. “Kingston Town” is even better – I enjoyed Alborosie’s remake (Italian rasta, yes) but Radikal Guru crushes that like a crab in his mighty net. A bar named Filo’s here used to throw reggae/dub events in their basement before it closed or burnt down; maybe one or two dim bulbs leaving the place in practical darkness with three guys toasting on a rusty soundsystem, a six foot ceiling, a flooded or locked bathroom and a couple girls angrily grinding on their dudes’ laps in the corner. Might this record have been available to them back then, the whole thing would’ve gotten shut down much quicker, as the sounds of Radikal Guru can only incite spliffs to burn brighter and tempers to rise faster. I can’t stop listening to this one.
Ripperton & Sam K Eze EP 12″ (Dessous)
Pretty smooth minimal house from Ripperton and Sam K, appearing on the title cut in collaboration and separately on the flip. Nothing too weird or out of sorts on “Eze”, cruising comfortably at about 128 bpm and working with a synthy palette. Understated and satisfying. “Desperate Housetrack” (great title) is slower and almost kind of quiet, like the type of techno you’d want to listen to while trying to sneak past a sleeping baby. “Slipstream” wakes up that child, though, probably the closest thing to acid found on Eze EP and also the least memorable. My copy of this 12” is a promo and comes with a “reaction sheet”, which was new to me. I wonder how many people actually fill these out and send them back to the label, what with the 1-10 rating and “crowd reaction” section.
Tamaryn Led Astray Washed Ashore LP (Troubleman Unlimited)
Great debut album from this mystical songstress, perfect for people who listen to Kate Bush on their iPods at the gym. Tamaryn lives up to the pretentiousness her singular diva name would imply on Led Astray Washed Ashore, with a strong voice and a willingness to let it fly over some slow-drifting, minimal mood music. The music should sit well with the aforementioned K.B. fans and anyone into the mid 80s 4AD roster, especially anyone who stared at the Modern English or Cocteau Twins album covers while letting it play. Speaking of album covers, this one has a real nice and regal gold emboss job, complete with an ultra-glossy picture of Tamaryn floating in some gothic pool. Great picture, but it’s the same picture on her first 7” single, and personally I’d like to see her in some other pose, perhaps laying on a white marble slab juggling feathers. The best cut on here, “Return To Surrender”, is found on that debut single too, so if you get wrapped up in this curiously morbid album like I have, don’t bother seeking out the single. I really do appreciate that Tamaryn isn’t hiding behind a wall of four-track fuzz or deliberately obscuring things like so many of her contemporaries, as it’s pretty clear she wants to be a star and is willing to entertain and present herself as part of the mainstream, rather than safely ghettoized in the underground where it can be cool to never really try.
Kurt Vile God Is Saying This To You LP (Mexican Summer)
With his Skulltones 7” days away from release and these two 12” records already out, it’s practically more Kurt Vile than anyone can handle. God Is Saying This To You is a solo outing, comprised of various recordings made over the past few years, from synthy interludes to humbly fingerpicked acoustic numbers. The whole thing has that same sense of space and happy buzz that made Constant Hitmaker so warm and inviting, although this is a much more intimate affair – there seems to be very little between Kurt and his microphone on all of these tracks. A good number of these were previously released on the Overnite KV CDr on Richie Records, but I doubt too many of those made it into circulation, UK tour release and all. If you did manage a copy of that though, and don’t have the vinyl itch, you may want to skip this one, since it’s probably at least $20 no matter where you find it and the whole pre-made collector’s item gimmick is kind of annoying, but I’m holding that to Mexican Summer, not Mr. Vile himself. You’re going to need to hear these songs one way or another though.
Kurt Vile & The Violators The Hunchback EP 12″ (Richie)
Here it is, the eagerly-anticipated Hunchback 12″ from Kurt Vile and his rag-tag band of stoners and ne’er-do-wells, and it’s as great as I could’ve hoped. “The Hunchback” starts off somewhere in the middle of what was probably an hour-long jam, just starting up the reel-to-reel and pressing play. It’s a bit more chilled-out than the raw version I previously enjoyed on some unlabeled CDr, and that took a little getting used to, but I have quickly come to appreciate this change in demeanor. The recording is warm and heavy and Kurt’s voice sounds as hound-doggy as ever, which is probably why I was a little disappointed to find that four of these tracks are brief instrumental meditations on various grooves, each worthy of sprawling into full-grown songs with vocal accompaniment. The other vocal track “Good Lookin’ Out” is new to me and probably steals the show. It’s got some mean and minimal percussion, uplifting melodies, guitar hypnosis and cute lyrics, all fitting together so seamlessly that only the steady hand of Mr. Vile could be held responsible. Best song I’ve heard in a long time, and I can’t say I’m surprised who wrote it. I know he’s got at least two other records coming out in the first half of 2009, can’t wait to get my hands on those.
Zola Jesus New Amsterdam CDr (Sacred Bones)
Kind of early for an odds-and-sods collection from Ms. Jesus, but I’ll take it. The first four songs are from a live set on WNYU and by far the most curious thing on here. It’s a band lineup, drums/bass/keyboard/vocals, and I can’t help but get the impression these folks had kind of an “umm, how are we gonna do this live” moment that never fully got resolved before hitting the radio station’s studio. These four songs are nearly identical in composition, with the drums playing some basic beat on the toms, then the bass or guitar joins, then the synth, then the vocals come in. I think Zola Jesus is great and hope that she doesn’t get caught up in that “just go up on stage with whoever and try to figure out something cool” ethos of Psychedelic Horseshit and Pink Reason and probably dozens of other bands who want to be those groups. That said, “Odessa” sounds great on here and Zola really channels the nerve and voice of a young Danzig. You can almost hear her skull bracelet and sleeveless black shirt on that one. If nothing else, it’s just cool to hear these songs with a significantly different lineup, if not improving upon the originals. The last six tracks are fine but don’t have that same weight of the Tsar Bomba EP, nor the interesting clarity of her vocals at WNYU, and consquently get skipped in favor of her superior vinyl releases.
Zola Jesus Tsar Bomba 12″ (Troubleman Unlimited)
The first 12”-sized record from everyone’s favorite tiny Wisconsin banshee, Zola Jesus. Instantly it’s way more industrial than the first two singles, relying less on her family’s dusty piano and instead working with layers of noisy synths that I’d imagine the inevitable Cold Cave / Prurient collaboration will sound like. Seven songs and it’s labeled an EP but there’s enough to dig in here that it’s worth the full-length price. “Rester” (taken from the ‘XXperiments’ compilation from last year) is probably the hit; I would love to hear this song pumping direct through a respectable soundsystem instead of whatever combo amps this was likely recorded on. “Last Day” is the first ballad I’ve heard from her and it fits in perfectly, too. I appreciate the rougher, heavier direction that Tsar Bomba takes and with Zola’s strong and confident voice I can’t imagine her doing anything besides getting better.
An Understanding Of Nothing compilation 7″ (Down In The Ground)
Debut release on a label already more infamous for its inability to distribute its product than the music contained within. Drama aside, this compilation is pretty short and gives a quick taste of three modern groups mining darker, colder musics with varied results. Blessure Grave are fairly uninspired, I mean if they are gonna call the song “Reduce You To Black Smoke” they might want to put a little something into it. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and hope the song is about overcooking a Healthy Choice dinner, not annihilating the listener with their bleak sonics. Crocodiles were alright, but I think the brevity of their song was its biggest asset. More Bauhaus-inspired post-punk that doesn’t create a voice of its own, with no real missteps or successes. Cold Cave, on the other hand, offer a track I remember from their MySpace page a while back that sounds better on vinyl (duh) and fits well between the pop of their Dais 12” and the noise of their Hospital 7”, although I know these guys and gal are on to far bigger and better things at this point. Really a record for Cold Cave completists only, who will hopefully be able to acquire copies once the label starts mailing them out.