- The artist best known as The Bug reflects on the turbulent birth of his first child.
- To watch your partner give birth is to feel utterly helpless. In the midst of one of the defining moments of your life, you're practically inert. There's little you can do to help beyond words and gestures of sympathy and encouragement. You spend months pouring as much positivity as possible on a situation that is equal parts exciting and daunting, particularly when it's your first child. When things don't go to plan—when the hours of labour turn into days, and the sleep deprivation takes hold—the psychological effect is profound.
When my wife gave birth to our first child, it wasn't plain sailing. But according to the text accompanying Sirens and a recent interview, Kevin Martin's wife and son went through something far more turbulent. As Lawrence English, who runs the label Room40, writes: "[The album] 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."
Martin's storied career has dealt in many kinds of extremity, from dancehall and ragga brutality as The Bug and Razor X Productions to the well of dread that is King Midas Sound. On the latter act's recent album, Solitude, Martin's forbidding, gaseous drones bled around Roger Robinson's barbed poetry about love's breakdown, so intense it was hard to believe it was anything other than autobiographical. But both artists have made clear it was a work of fiction—a study in narrative and concept as a jump-off point for intensely emotional music.
Sirens shares a sonic world with Solitude in some ways. But as his first release under his own name, Martin lays bare a deeply intimate part of his life. As a recording artist of many decades, the birth of his son was clearly a profound, traumatic time that warranted examination. Sirens, though, isn't just a conduit for Martin's own emotional response—it also reflects the intensity of his wife's experience. On "There Is A Problem," the fragile joy evoked by nursery chimes is swamped by ominous, surging bass. The mood swings from giddy elation to shock and concern in a heartbeat, though the melodic fog horn blasts evoke the mother's fortitude in the face of such extreme circumstances.
In some ways, "Too Much" feels like the album's most personal piece. In its fatigued, downcast procession, it seems to capture a moment of internal reflection. When all energy and emotion is focused on the wellbeing of the other(s), there's little time spared to consider one's own mental state. Opening that door seems to only lead to a swelling tide of intensity, and one that needs to be suppressed quickly again to return to a state of readiness for whatever comes next. "Kangaroo Care" might have affected me the most. There's tenderness in the slow-release, upper-register melody, but it's still distinctly tipped towards fraught emotions. The album's progress is unrelenting—the atonal stasis of "The Deepest Fear" and the oppressive doom of "Necrosis" pile on anxiety and a primal kind of heartbreak.
What makes the birth partner's experience through a traumatic delivery so surreal is that all the undulating waves of fear, tension, exhaustion and guilt are splashed with the most brilliant joy. It's a potent cocktail that can take on an almost psychedelic quality. Sirens' darkness is matched by its delicacy. On the closer, "A Bright Future," everything seems to have turned out OK. But it's not straightforward—the hopeful coda is frayed at the edges by delay feedback and reverb decays, dissipating around the crystalline piano notes. In the album's closing moments, stomach-knotting nerves are replaced by delirious love that leaps forth for Martin's son, and the strength of the woman who carried him into the world.
01. There Is A Problem
02. Bad Dream
03. After The Party
04. Life Threatening Operation 2
06. Too Much
07. The Surgeon
08. Mechanical Chatter In The I.C.U.
09. Kangaroo Care
10. The Deepest Fear
12. Loss Of Consciousness
14. A Bright Future