Martinez - O-pen

Label: Concealed Sounds - CCLD007
Format: 3x Vinyl, 12". Album
Country: Denmark
Released: April 2015
Style: House, Ambiental, Hip-Hop, Minimal, Microhouse, Nu-Jazz

As strange as Martin Swanstein (Martinez's) album name sounds, it does have a rather nice ring to it, giving it a rather playful vibe to it. As the name suggests, it is something very open, diverse and each and every track is painstakingly mixed in order to achieve that effect.

The album starts off with the title bearer of the album.
"O-pen" is, if anything, ambitious and expansive. It's more than fitting as the first track of the lot and does a very nice job of immersing the listener into the atmosphere of the album with some breaky beats, dubby chords and very organic percussion work.
It's so swingy that it could have easily passed for a hip-hop instrumental and the first thing that you notice is that reverb plays a big role in the acoustics of the track and, for that matter, of the entire album. Even though Martinez has gone through several stages during his extensive career, you can hear that he's gone to a totally new level with his sound.
And then, somewhere along the road, while you're off eloping in your own mind, "O-pen"s melody slowly fades in. It's not quite what you might expect and will likely completely twist what you've been accustomed to from "Concealed Sounds" making some wonder if Martinez's prior releases on the label were just leading up to number 7 on the catalog.

Marketing strategy and numerology aside and number 2 on the album, "The Practicality of a Quad" is... weird? Strange? Definitely. Mental? Quite possibly. It poses more questions than it answers, that's for sure.
After going back in time to his earlier releases on "Guidance" and "Out Of Orbit" with the opener, Martin suddenly decides to make a leap jump to more modern times.
"The Practicality of a Quad" is one continuous bouncing ball, and it's one elastic ball at that. It almost seems to breathe life, partly due to the constant sample of birds chirping, but it's more than that - the background rides that slowly fade in, the shakers, the hi-hats, everything is mixed so that they fit like a game of Tetris, even the vocals and the occasional high pitched pads.
That is pretty much the case up to a point, around the second minute mark, when things take a turn for the obscure with a slow, dramatic melody, though it might be a bit too much to call it "obscure" - the quad rather evokes feelings of sadness and curiosity as the melody slowly progresses, but the track never settles into a predictable pattern for too long. After almost 7 minutes you're left wondering what comes next, and that unpredictability is an undeniable quality of this album.

Number 3, "Ambergris" wanders even further into what seems like a labyrinth of sorts. The track starts off stripped down, lo-fi, call it what you want it - a snare clap, panned out microhats and bells? Weird bells that come in and out every now and then, announcing further progression into the track. Vocals of all matter and form creep their way in while Martinez layers some hats and then more vocals, - a black woman talking about music and high range harmonies that take control of the track up till the fourth minute or so, when the bells return in more orderly fashion, creating quite a nice little melody. But that's not the case for long, as Martinez goes rogue and strips everything down, adding a very groovy bassline into the mix.
As the women starts telling her story about her relationship with music once again, you begin to understand that you're actually listening to a stripper that used to dance tables. All the while, the pad keeps working its magic, even gaining a smaller companion, but not for quite that much time. As everything comes full circle, the bells start playing their way back into the track up to the last minute, when everything slowly, methodically comes to a halt.

"Fauna", as the name implies, is more of a tribal piece with a honky tonk rhythm latched to it and very minimalistic design. It's similar in some ways to the second track through the use of evolving rides used to create tension before sliding head first into deeper territory with the main melody. All this goes on up till the half of the 3rd minute, when the hat shifts forward and soon after that, the track opens up significantly through the expansion of the main melody and before mentioned rides. The breakdown then builds up till the fifth minute making way for more of the same rhythms and melodies that we encountered earlier. As the track unfolds towards its end, Martinez plays a bit around with the harmonies and finishes strongly in truly majestic fashion. Even though at some points "Fauna" might seem a bit repetitive, Martin manages to make the track speak, and once again, furthers the listener's curiosity.

Track number 5, - "Unknown Places" - the half way milestone of the album is the shortest and most minimalistic track of the bunch as of yet.
Martinez takes a more syncopated route and seemingly marks a sort of shifting of gears in the album - punchy house beats, offbeat bells and vocals transposed and morphed to the point of ridicule and delight form the main idea of the beginning of the track.
Percussion work is rather minimal, the only noticeable elements being the kick drum, a very subtle clap and the hats as the track's path is set more by the alternations between bouts of vocal work, intelligent bass arrangements and the progression that is achieved through the melody that undoubtedly takes you "places". "Octopus Parade" follows up and, from the get go, you get a sense that this is something completely different from the rest, but I have to admit, I did not expect, nor completely understand at first what happened throughout the beginning. It's the kind of track that some people might not really understand or appreciate, but nonetheless, it leaves a mark.
As you keep on listening to the track, the likes of Akufen come to mind - sample based microhouse at its finest -, repetitive vocal arrangements, what sounds like a clown's nose, high pitched noises, all matter of sounds and weird little melodies - it all makes for the funniest track of the bunch, though at some times, repetitive. As the 8th minute approaches, a warm pad, which the track began with, takes center stage through the organized chaos in the background.
Even though the funhouse feeling lasts quite a bit, moments of tension filter through with pads coming in and out and fader work done on the volume of more than a few elements. As the lengthy sixth track comes to an end, you might at some points feel a bit confused and bipolar, trying to catch grip or sense of what was happening at some points in the track.

Number "7", "Closer", steps in quietly from the back with a room full of people talking around you and a haunting little piano song. As the percussion skips around the subby bass, a small clap cautiously emerges. Shortly after, the piano starts to transform into something more like a low pitched harp and background noises form up little rhythms, giving way to the people in the room to be heard. It's quite an odd piece, but childish in a way with repetitive percussion and the constant pad that plays the same rhythm but, weirdly enough, never manages to bore you. Everything goes on rather well throughout its 7 and a half minutes but at some points you wish Martinez would have pushed the envelope on this one just a bit more.

"Sinking In Between" closes in on the listener with background hustle and bustle, a jazzy piano and short repetitive bass notes.
It almost seems like something you'd hear in a back alley bar in Brooklyn on improv night and, as with "O-pen", it gives of a sort of hip-hop vibe, getting you to imagine someone like Akua Naru singing over it. Percussion is made up of a short 808 like kick drum, weird transposed versions of drums, short micro hats and the occasional delayed snares and, as the bassline progresses, things take on an ever jazzier feel with reversed piano notes and deeper melodic rhythms. Martinez shows a lot of maturity and open mindedness with this pick which will undoubtedly make some people ask for more of the same in the future.

The almost 6 minute long track takes things down a lot and makes way for "Absence".

"Absence" is all smiles and cheers and is one of the more festive tracks of the album. It's backed up by a flurry of melodies, pads and chords, filtered and resonated beautifully. The percussion is house oriented, uplifting and very groovy and even in the beginning of the track when everything is rather quiet, if you could say that, it all makes for a very encompassing experience.
As the 3rd minute makes way, more noticeable microhats and filtered claps take more and more room up in the mix and pads start flying around more than usual, but Martinez doesn't go the distance on the percussion, keeping it in a sort of lockdown, filtering something in, fading something out, essentially juggling with everything around while the melody constantly chants along in the background up until the very end of the 9th track and, as it comes to a halt you find yourself, satisfyingly enough, still dancing.

The last track, "Forgotten", sounds, as the name would imply, pissed off and sad at the same time. Even though the entire album has at least one melodic component in each track, "Forgotten" is beautiful in a way that creates a natural resonance with the human soul, similar in a many ways to Aphex Twin's or Global Communication's ambiental works or other such pieces. Even it is the shortest track on the album - spanning a meager 3 minutes and is formed by little more than a humongous chord pad, a bassline, a kick drum and some background jitters that reverb and fill up the track -, it leaves an impression of raw emotion through the composition of the melody and shines a whole new light on Martinez, not only due to the last track, but for the entirety of the album which represents a true artist album.