Review Summary: Something new, something old and something borrowed for Martyn's highly anticpated follow up, yet this time around he's less forward thinking and more just straight forward
It’s interesting to now only be able to gauge just how pivotal and influential Martyn’s Great Lengths
lp actually was, some two and a bit years after it emerged coated in a delicate house sheen, less rudimentary yet somehow more practical with its ambitions. It was the dubstep album that somehow avoided being a part of the genre altogether, chiefly because of its employment of more flagrant upbeat tempos and techno insinuations. This apparent precursor to the whole UK Funky movement (imagine what garage house would sound like and you’re on the right path) also spoke another language entirely because of Martyn’s distance from the two main worlds of the genre: neither another faceless entity embroiled within the hubbub of London atmosphere, or partaking in the jockstrap dubstep of the American frat scene. Coming from the home of techno he wrapped himself up in what he knew best, and in the process propelled his oscillating bass anthems from the working class vibe of the humble 2-step into much more rigid and regimented four to the floor territory.
continues this desertion, to the point where he really has no connection to a genre that he unwittingly became a chief arbiter of. This newly minted member of the Brainfeeder alumni now sits comfortably nestled into the underworld of tech house and soft rave. As a result, this new incarnation lacks the deep mood swings and abrasiveness of his early pioneering output, now more nuanced and focused. The polyrhythmic delirium of Ghost People
is a world of slow buildup and fast release. The complexities of Great Lengths
have also been discarded in favor of a much more direct approach; gone are his tangled webs of bass psychosis and tumbling percussion, the rain-streaked black and white canvas now tinted in harsh shades of vibrant color.
And yet even though he’s now working with a genre that allows a great deal of breathing room and freedom to be able to move around, Ghost People
is still an exhaustive and at times disparaging affair. Despite Martyn’s technical acumen, he falters at being able to display any great deal of personality or character in his music. While this particular strand of house music (and Martyn’s own take on it borrows heavily from the big book of Detroit beat making) is for the most part, minimal and reflective, Martyn fails to imbue the album with any real spirit, or a fundamental ethos. Rave heavy synths stab into the pastiche of nostalgia, and the hi-hats ring out deliciously over the crackle and pop of the thumping percussion, and for the most part everything sounds predictably comfortable and every track delivers on some level. But there’s a discernible lack of something
that holds Ghost People
back from being the classic we all expected it to be. It all sounds the business, in fact the whole tech house scene hasn’t sounded this refreshing and proficient in years, but as an album intensely trying to replicate the warehouse parties of the last twenty years it ends up becoming a by-product of its main ambition – which is to say, this is nothing that we haven’t heard before.
is an incredibly engaging listen, and despite operating under the pretense of an apparent homage it still manages to convey a sense of futurist isolation. But this time around it's decidedly less forward thinking and simply just straight forward, despite the slippery nature of Martyn’s garage tendencies. It also doesn’t help when the bulk of the album feels like an extended prelude to the breathless closer that is ‘We Are You In The Future’, an 8 minute time capsule of the early house movement wrapped up in a sea of distortion which ends up becoming the most blissful thing Martyn might ever have accomplished. While far from being on shaky ground, Ghost People
shows Martyn learning rather than experimenting. Where he goes from here remains to be seen, but if this is just a first step in his rebellion against the conventions of the rabble of the garage scene, then his next move might be the game changer this was supposed to be.