Sirens by Kevin Richard Martin

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Kevin Richard Martin | Sirens
Room40 (LP/DL)

This is the first album to be released by Kevin Martin under his given name, after years of monikers and groups, most notably The Bug and King Midas Sound.  Where these previous musical incarnations have been sonic assaults of bass-heavy dub and dancehall, Sirens finds the prolific producer delve into mostly beatless ambient, offering a deeply personal LP for the Room40 label that draws on his experiences and memory of his child’s difficult birth.  Where his other releases have used bass weight and pressure to shake speakers and dance floors, there is a different kind of pressure and weight here.  The fear and uncertainty of a stressed parent informs the overall tone of this album, a slow-motion dread-crawl manifesting itself in this musical response to the ordeal.

The album consists of 14 tracks, ranging in length from just a couple of minutes to just over ten.  Each is titled matter-of-factly, names describing the situations and emotions in chronological order.  The record begins with There Is A Problem, a short introduction of gaseous drones and melancholic keys that begin a tale of getting bad news, and the news getting worse as each track progresses.  The sonic palette throughout this collection is a range of greys, certain tones drawing on just a single shade.  This understatement is ironic, in that the music is in response to something that can’t be overstated.

Bad Dream continues, soft hissing drones representing, I imagine, the cloudiness overtaking Martin’s mind as he received the news, shocked and in disbelief.  The first track to overtly express the reality of the situation comes in the form of Life Threatening Operation 2.  A weightless drone like the sound escaping from the radiators in David Lynch’s classic Eraserhead is slowly engulfed by heavier components, shards of echo-laden synths passing like stray thoughts. And what thoughts Martin must have been having in the sanitized confines of the hospital, well I can’t even imagine.  His feelings are concisely expressed in the title of Too Much, indeed, it must have been unbearable, and this track is a low rumble of bass drone with a faintly throbbing pulse of a beat, like nervous feet tapping in impatience in a waiting room.  This track builds up energy, with darkly melodic synths snaking throughout.  Suddenly the synths fall to the wayside, leaving only the kick drum, like a heartbeat in silence.

Playing out in real time, each track is a moment in a family’s narrative, where we meet The Surgeon and get a diagnosis of Necrosis.  Mechanical Chatter in the I.C.U. paints a picture of the actual physical space and environment of the hospital, shallow depth charges of bass that burst amid roiling treble, metallic sine tones piercing back and forth through the stereo field.  These soundscapes are both internal and external, and recall Martin’s past work in Techno Animal, plotting out liminal spaces with echo and reverb. 

Loss of Consciousness is a charged drone that, despite its title, contains harmonics that sound quite blissful if removed from the context.  It feels like slowly falling inwards, a track that would not be out of place on an Isolationism record, a genre name that Martin coined himself back in his days of curating experimental music compilations for Virgin back in the 90s.  But there is light at the end of this emotional rollercoaster, in the final track, A Bright Future.  After 14 seconds of silence that feels like holding your breath in anticipation, a descending melody begins that sounds like a deconstructed bell, bright tones ringing in harmony.  This signal of recovery is a welcome relief at the end of an emotional journey expressed in the power of music.  The making of this album must have been an extremely difficult, yet cathartic process for Martin, and as a listener sharing these emotions, it is heavy stuff indeed.

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