- Much of the critical attention paid to Martyn in the past two years has tracked his delicate refashioning of styles—ranging from dubstep to techno to house—into a sound all his own. Yours truly has been as guilty as any of breathlessly cataloguing the musical decoupage that has allowed Martyn to step out from generic convention into a fluid formulation different from all else out there. Call this a bad habit, but it's also been necessary considering the subtle manipulations of micro-genres on his records. The Washington DC-based Dutchman's debut full-length, Great Lengths is the culmination of his broad-reaching experimentation to date.
The album, broadly, is divided into two parts, with the first seven tracks followed by a beatless interlude and then seven more. But it's two tracks that leap out on first listen: "Right?!Star" and "These Words." This duo, both appearing in the album's first half, are the ones receiving repeat canings from dubstep DJs, and rightly so: They're both not only catchy, but also warm and uplifting as well. "Right!?"Star" is anchored by an enormous bassline that feels like it was made out of 800-fill goose down. "These Words" steps harder, and is combined with D-Bridge's extraordinary vocal, which tells a rueful story of love and loss in the album's most delicate moment.
On the second half, the free flow between straight and stepping beats continues. The atmosphere draws darker in this section, which wears its garage influences more overtly. "Elden St.," "Hear Me" and "Is This Insanity" are journeys into the dirty underbelly to which "Vancouver" so pleasantly alludes. This trio feels more familiar than some of the music here, and lacks a certain vitality as a result.
Nevertheless, they share the incredibly precise and polished production values that give the rest of the album's glassy surfaces their irresistible shimmer. Something you can easily hear on the stone-cold technoid glower of the 4/4 "Seventy:Four" or "Little Things," which is a syncopated study of louche charm, its tone sitting halfway between swagger and a shrug. The voluminous sonic feast extends all the way to the beatless abstraction of "Brilliant Orange." Martyn manipulates genre elements here as building blocks subservient to musical meaning, rather than predictors. To that end, he employs a structure of beats that progress seamlessly from the most solid bass foundations to the most rachitic webs of snares.
"Right?!Star" and "These Words," on their own, would surely be amongst the strongest singles of this year. But Great Lengths provides more than that: It's a complex, organic and compelling alternate world. It has preserved the sheer joy taken by the most reduced dubstep, and combined it with the ephemeral pleasure of house. In a climate dominated by competent singles that are rightly forgotten soon after their release, Great Lengths is an album that expands in stature with every listen.
01. The Only Choice
04. Seventy Four
05. Little Things
07. These Words feat. dBridge
09. Elden St.
10. Far Away
11. Hear Me
12. Is This Insanity? feat. Spaceape
13. Brilliant Orange
14. Natural Selection