ALBUM: The Air Between Words
Dutch producer and DJ, Martijn Deijkers (better known as Martyn), has at times been thought of as a genre chameleon, with each release activating a change in pigment relative to the various scenes he passes through. In a sense, this is true: Martyn’s productions borrow from the soundbanks of the musical niches he inhabits; yet, Martyn does much more than blend into the background, and his music, in its forward-looking application of these tropes, frequently outdoes the works of producers confined within genric walls. His last two full-length releases are evidence of this, whether in Great Lengths (2009), whose wax-textured synths and intelligent percussions carved out fresh spaces for a seemingly fully-fledged dubstep scene, or the breakbeat experimentation of his Brainfeeder release, Ghost People (2011), that approached the dancefloor with an odd mixture of expertise and idiosyncrasy. To be clear, Martyn switched from label to label, sound to sound, but this is perhaps a product of his history, where Deijkers broke into the scene as a drum ‘n’ bass DJ, but has also tried his hand at Chicago house and Detroit techno. It is therefore no wonder that Martyn pulls from his expansive knowledge of dance music to construct his own art, enduing a classic sonic quality that sometimes deceives listeners into overlooking its innovative composition.
However, there will be less confusion over his latest LP, The Air Between Words, released on London label Ninja Tune. In it, Martyn doesn’t engage with any particular genre, but instead draws from the full breadth of his versatile production experience. Thus, while UK rave elements are strewn throughout—from Martyn’s garage-inflected rhythms, to warping dubbed-out bass sounds that groove the record, and electrified vocal samples layered in between—these influences do not wholly sum up the album. Even the 4/4 house patterns and tempo that The Air Between Words adheres to provides no clear indication of the Dutchman’s intent, and the entire affair is, rather, a mixed bag. For instance, only on this record would highly-sexualized club-banger “Like That” be followed by “Lullaby”, that sounds almost like an instrumental grime ode to indie-pop musician tUnE-yArDs. This mimicry, though more erratic than in prior efforts, suggests that Martyn hasn’t entirely shed his chameleonic tendencies; nevertheless, something distinctly Martyn still transpires.
For one thing, his melodic direction is more apparent in this album, and frequently, The Air Between Words will rely on vintage piano or string sounds—that aren’t washed out in effects or subject to electronic tampering—to provide harmonic motion and forward progression. While Martyn’s harmonic intuition has never been in doubt, tunes like “Fashion Skater” and “Love of Pleasure” (with Hype Williams’ vocalist Inga Copeland) showcase a more expressive side to his peculiar emotional spectrum that listeners have not previously been privy to. Martyn still does draw heavily from dance music, but the LP doesn’t depend solely on sound-engineering or club music theatrics. Instead, the album is laden with slow, melding transitions, absorbing UK rave into more organic forms in which musical ideas juxtapose rather than collapse at every drop. “Glassbeadgames”, the album’s other collaboration with London beatmaker Four Tet, demonstrates this effect early on: moments of brilliance arising from the gradual penetration of the main vocal sample.
Admittedly, the album isn’t always as pretty as the aforementioned tracks, and it is telling that the two collaborations stick in the memory better than most of the solo tracks. Even as The Air Between Words may be Martyn’s most artistic work, insofar as it makes the listener aware of its composition as art, the album doesn’t always manage to keep the listener’s attention—and the tracks lose the urgency perfected by club music by doing away with its structures. Indeed, the jazz-injected “Drones” is maddeningly aimless, whereas the gaseous tones at the end of “Two Leads And A Computer” startles like cold water after so many minutes of static loops. Occasionally, Martyn uses tedium to his advantage, with longer build-ups leading to greater releases. But more often than not, the wait is too long, and the rewards for patience too small.
The Air Between Words may not seem intimate, and it takes some time for tracks to get sweet, but the album offers a curious look at Martyn without as much camouflage. Although he cannot help but reference the dance genres by which he learned his trade, it is Martyn himself that the album coheres around: his particular method of composing, his anachronistic touch, his keen sense of harmony. It is as personal as the Dutchman gets, avoiding the party-personalities of club music and the mystical airs of more dramatic musicians altogether, and finding some strange mask of his own.
“Without the music being introspective, this is my most natural sounding album.”