Release Date: Mar 24, 2017
Record label: Ninja Tune
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
Kevin Martin has spent much of his career working with other people, from Justin K Broadrick (as God, Ice, Techno Animal and the rest) to the wide range of reggae and grime vocalists that have helped shape his sound as The Bug. Then there's King Midas Sound, his project with Kiki Hitomi and Roger Robinson, whose last album, Edition 1, featured the experimental guitarist Fennesz. His collaborations, while uncannily suited to his guests, always sound intrinsically like his own work.
It almost seems disingenuous putting the Bug’s name on Concrete Desert. Sure, Kevin Martin is involved, but those looking for anything inspired by hip-hop or dancehall or anything else you can nod your head to aren’t going to find much. What we have here is a collection of tracks with only the loosest connection to dub, expansive and oppressive things with only a tangential relationship to the genres that Martin, as the Bug, has dabbled in.
Kevin Martin and Dylan Carlson, The Bug and Earth respectively, have been spiraling up and down this path for over two decades. Their list of achievements and accomplishments are too plenty to list here, but for context The Bug is better known for his dark, dubby electronic grooves, while Earth has run the gamut of drone and doom metal. Combining the two forces feels like an apocalyptic meltdown of tone and texture and a slow-burn assault on the senses - with a bit of irony sprinkled in for good measure.
Following up their striking 2014 collaboration -- the Boa / Cold 12-inch -- Dylan Carlson (Earth) and Kevin Martin (aka the Bug) have joined forces once again for a full-length album steeped in unbridled heaviness. That these two hail from disparate centres of tectonic activity -- Carlson is a specialist in deep, droning guitar sludge, while Martin slings dub-influenced, beat-based mayhem -- is of no consequence; the pair share an uncanny symbiosis, which is quite clearly demonstrated on Concrete Desert. Carlson's slow-motion shredding is met by and intertwined neatly with Martin's noisy atmospherics and minimalist beats.
Despite the similarities between noise and heavy music, the pairing of the Bug's Kevin Martin and Earth's Dylan Carlson still makes for a bit of a curious contrast. The UK-born Martin traffics in chest-compressing beats, drawing on a lineage spanning from dancehall through grime and dubstep. Earth, meanwhile, is a Washington state doom band that trudges with an ambient, codeine-hazed pace.
Inspired by both "urban dystopias" and English writers such as JG Ballard, kinetic producer The Bug and doom-heavy maverick Earth unite for a long-awaited full-length album on Ninja Tune. Titles such as 'City Of Fallen Angels' and 'American Dream' are clear indications of the LP's focus on exploring the "fragmented underbelly" of LA, and the songs themselves are no less melancholy with their deep, viscous notes and barely-there sounds. Lead single 'Snakes vs Rats' adds stalling beats to echoing guitar licks and sludgy riffs, while the title track is a 14-minute cut of gliding sonics.
The Bug (Kevin Martin) and Earth (led by Dylan Carlson) have each spent over 20 years exploring sound worlds that - taken at face value - may seem incompatible. Martin has engaged most fully with the bass-heavy world of dub, embracing dancehall, hip-hop, industrial and reggae along the way. Carlson, meanwhile, became known through Earth's transformation of doom metal through the prism of drone.
These two names on a recording offer -- at least initially -- a startling juxtaposition. There's the Bug (aka Kevin Martin), king of compressed, signature bone-breaking beats that emerge from crushing mutant dancehall, grime, and twisted iconic dubstep; his is a signature sound created from crackle, crunch, and crush. Dylan Carlson's Earth -- of which he is the only constant member -- began as an ultraheavy, low-tuned metal drone outfit whose worship of microphonics and Black Sabbath-ian riffing made them icons.
One might be forgiven for raised eyebrows at the idea of a collaboration between The Bug, with a distinctly gritty, metropolitan flavor, and Earth, whose output over recent years has an open, windblown desert feel. But when you come down to it, both artists inhabit a sort of desolate, vaguely alienated landscape, albeit expressed from different perspectives. Kevin Martin has for years plumbed the extremes possible when combining heavy beats with a seemingly-opposed minimalism, as Techno Animal, God, Ice and The Bug among others.