Boomkat Product Review:
Kevin Martin has tapped into a kind of unfathomable strain of desolation this year, first on King Midas Sound’s ‘Solitude’ - one of the most painfully lonely albums of recent times, and now on the first album under his own name, ’Sirens’, released by Lawrence English’s Room 40 label. It’s a startling record lost in its own thoughts, the soundtrack to personal tragedy and rebirth somehow mirroring Hildur Gudnadottir’s recent score work for Chernobyl, but in much more personal space.
Despite being a more or less constant presence on our radars since the late 90’s when we first opened our doors (actually, from way before that - 1995’s 'Macro Dub Infection' comp and 97’s 'Köner Experiment' are both foundational records here) - and despite a constant barrage of bangers under myriad guises (but mostly as The Bug), various strains of Martin's work seem to have only just recently converged into something entirely distinctive. Both ’Solitude’ and ’Sirens’ are neither showy nor self indulgent - this is music that’s ice cold yet intimate, barely-there - but utterly compelling. While its easy to make sudden impact with scudding basslines, here Martin takes a more lonely route into numerous strands of contemporary music; from dub to noise and across the abyss between, into a dimly lit corner that somehow brings out the best we’ve heard from him in over 20 years. It's nothing short of an isolationist classic.
“When I was 22 I managed to acquire Techno Animal’s Demonoid 12” at a local record store, Rocking Horse Records. I can still recall the intensities of sound that marked the first moments of listening to it. The sense of bass as a tactile surface, that rolling groove and the howling sine waves and dub sirens that scorched with a type of sonic burning sensation that to this day makes my hairs stand on end. A year later I heard Ice’s Bad Blood, from there I discovered The Bug through a release on Wordsound, a band called God, a sound movement called isolationism and much more; all of these projects had one nexus point - Kevin Richard Martin.
In 2015, Kevin and I book-ended a series of concerts at Berghain for CTM festival. For his performance, Kevin debuted a new work I’d heard very little about called ’Sirens’. I remember two things distinctly about the performance. The first thing is he opened the set with a blazing passage of bass and dub sirens that instantly transported me back to those initial moments of encountering his work. The second was the feeling of absolute, crushing bass. Not before, or since, have I felt a sense of sound pressure like this. Unlike his other work with The Bug for example, the consistent bass carrying in the space was literally breathtaking and there were moments when it seemed difficult to see clearly as my eye sockets were vibrating in a way I’d never experienced.
Sirens, which documents the intensities surrounding the delivery and early days of his first child, carries in it a sense of deep affect. The album, unlike the live work, traces out a dynamic sound world that is both tender and caustic. It charts the emotional rollercoaster that is the arrival of parenthood, heightened through the complex circumstances of his wife's emergency procedures during the birth and two further life threatening operations for his son, in the first month of the child's life. Within each piece, microcosms of sensation unfold, Kevin clearly and deftly manoeuvres us through the tumultuous journey. Seconds become hours, and hours become seconds; Sirens somehow creates a sense of time that is without anchor and is foggy in a way that is profoundly unique (and frankly pleasurable).
Kevin Richard Martin has remained a point of constant inspiration for me over several decades now. To have the opportunity to share his first ever solo recording, one that arguably opens an entirely new side of his practice, brings me the utmost pride. His work has impacted so very much on me at various points and I know I am not alone in this situation. His new work, Sirens is a life journey transposed into sound that is truly personal, but effortlessly universal. It is the start of a new chapter for Kevin and one that I know will only strengthen his place as one of the critical voices in contemporary electronic music.
Lawrence English, March 2019”