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White Noise: Martyn – Ghost People

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Martyn – Ghost People

Whole album stream

I’ve always had a soft spot for Dutch producer Martyn. From his DnB beginnings to his phenomenal dubstep-inflected debut album Great Lengths, his releases have always been everything I look for in a dance producer: subtle, daring, and beautifully crafted. This second album is seeing release on FlyLo’s Brainfeeder label, and it’s no surprise: Martyn and the LA beat experimentalist go back a long way, supporting each other live and remixing each other’s tracks. Although the material spread across this varied and exciting LP can’t exactly be called ‘experimental’ in line with a lot of the beatsmith crowd, it is a hypnotic and open-ended dance experience in exactly the same way as Brainfeeder classic Los Angeles. Even though I set the bar high in anticipating this LP, Martyn has proven himself once more head and shoulders ahead of the majority of the dance crowd, and Ghost People is packed with really skilful compositions that are never too showy but always bursting with great ideas. Almost every track is great and provides a new take on an existing genre, and each is a joy to listen to.

It will become clear immediately that in contrast to his “very personal” debut, this is a much more club-centric approach, yet it all works fantastically; there is something utterly unique about every track here. The LP kicks off with Hyperdub’s resident poet Spaceape trading in the usual dark futurism over Martyn’s arpeggiating synths and scifi sounds, but it’s a rare slow moment on an album of dance tracks that seems to be designed to cater for every taste possible without losing any sense of coherence. The opener switches into serrated lead single Viper, in which dark textures weave themselves around the propulsive central loop. It’s a strong mission statement, and as the album continues the listener can only become more and more impressed. We’re fed straight into third cut and definite highlight Masks, in which a bouncing 4/4 beat is courted by abrasive textures of gorgeous subtlety, almost challenging the listener to disentangle the layers woven together so fluidly. Quite apart from this, the track is a massive dance tune in its own right, building up the snares and claps to an infectious treated synth line and a fantastically detailed soundfield that mutates and changes to always keep you delighted and on your toes. There's so much to uncover here, for example listen out for the stretched effect that threatens to overpower the track with electronic fuzz before disappearing to let the smooth beats regain ground.

One of the clear successes of this LP is that it should appeal just as much to home listeners as it does to DJs and the club crowd. For the dancers there’s the tracks discussed earlier but also the Lone-style sunny synths of excellent title track Ghost People, the heavy and paranoid mutations of Horror Vacui, the gritty 2step of Popgun and the shimmering arpeggios of Bauplan; all of which would sound excellent on the dancefloor. But at the same time those who listen on their headphones in the dark will love the submerged echoes of Ghost People that rear their head in ambient interlude I Saw You At Tule Lake, the ghostly samples that swirl through the misty synths of Twice As, and the shifting melodic wash that underpins Distortions, never once letting the track settle. Every noise here is treated to sound like a part of Martyn’s whole; and the constantly shifting synths and beats throughout the LP show a pragmatic sensibility of what’s going to get people moving combined with a loving knack for detail, a fusion which produces results that are simply stunning.

Martyn reaches out towards so many styles here; house, techno, garage, bass; and not only does he nail each one but he creates a sound which feels like it’s coming from a future where every tune is a polished and lovingly crafted piece of audio perfection. That’s how we wind up at closer We Are You In The Future, an absolutely epic closer in which rising ravey synth melodies vie for importance with constantly shifting beats, acid basslines and breathtaking breakdowns. In its 9 minute runtime it also runs through all the styles, tones and sounds found throughout the album, forming a perfect closer by briefly recapping the sounds he’s introduced us to whilst containing them all in one mammoth track. This one tune encompasses everything that Martyn is about: taking a staggeringly wide breadth of influences and using them to create a sound that overflows with ideas but is decidedly subtle and detailed, while always entirely embodying that ‘Martyn sound’.

There’s so much more to be said about these tracks, from discussing the intricacies of his beat programming to the squeak and groan sampled from a James Brown track (find it for yourself). This LP is a fantastic collection of dancefloor stunners with an incredibly strong sense of tone and refinement, and it’s a joy to lose yourself ever further in his sound. He has said that he wishes to “be known as someone who always surprises”, and with Ghost People he’s certainly surprised me, producing a superior follow-up to an excellent debut that is always on-point, and the result is that with this LP Martyn issues a bold and exciting statement from one of the most important voices in today’s dance scene.


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