Album Review: Martyn | Great Lengths

Originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine: TOC: Martyn




Dubstep \ dub-step \ n + jazz \ jas \ n

Every three months or so, the DJ lexicon adopts a new subgenre. Whether ghetto-tech or bassline, these niche trends tend to burn bright and then quickly burn out. Thankfully, dubstep has persevered where others have failed. A number of artists can be credited for its resilience. Last year, it was Tempa Recordings artist Benga and the nominee for the U.K.’s Mercury Prize, Burial. This year, it’s hotly tipped, D.C.-based Dutch transplant Martyn.

As evident on his debut album, Great Lengths, Martyn has found a cozy home in dubstep’s drum ’n’ bass–informed lineage, with its half-time breaks, techno washes, dub echoes and massive bass. Many of the genre’s proponents opt for speaker-cone-rattling sub-bass, a harsh drum loop and little else; their tracks are like two-pump chumps: great one minute, unfulfilling the next. But Martyn uses dubstep’s framework to craft rich tapestries of sound, as on his single “Natural Selection,” in which warm jazz chords are offset by crackly drum shuffles, waves of bass and eerily pitched-down vocals, the combination of which makes for a much more satisfying listen.

On “These Words,” he leaves dubstep’s model almost completely behind, revealing his more elegant side with a glimmering piano line and soul-filled vocals. Two minutes into the song, a grimy bass line emerges to remind us that Martyn hasn’t gone soft.

When so many artists can regurgitate a music style’s formula ad nauseam, lining up the first nails for its coffin before it’s truly lived, the ebbs and flows of Martyn’s use of space, sound and savvy go to great lengths to ensure that he and his preferred genre are here to stay.

- Joshua P. Ferguson



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