Alex Martin - Classics 1994-1998 (Canela En Surco, 2021)
On their second release, the Barcelona based imprint turn their gaze towards one of the city's most important producers and his essential body of work from the mid to late 90s, compiled on this superb record that showcases all of what Alex Martin sought to achieve.
Its pretty much a given that most of the highly revered producers from the 90s had numerous aliases, mostly due to their willingness to explore infinite avenues of sonic and textural application. So many strands and sub genres flowed from within the era, and for some it was important to capture the essence of some of these new lines of inquiry by pursuing the sound incessantly, showcasing an inherent eagerness to dive deeply into new realms of possibility and potential. Its what made the decade so highly regarded by electronic music lovers, in that so much evolution, morphology and experimentation occurred with its years that gives over endless lengths of time spent devoted to its varying deviations and narratives, all waiting to be explored and pursed. We always look for cross references, for those artists who traversed across the plains of possibility and interlinked the varying pathways at crossroads which paired this aspect with that aspect to craft a new node, a connection that reached out and embraced incredible new sounds and genres and distilled it into bitesized representations which reflected their passions and reverence for these new sounds. It leaves us with so many legacies that represent a lifetime of pursuing perfected audial landscapes, ones where individuals relentlessly navigated the spectrum of flavours with numerous names which we are left to explore and understand one step at a time, representing an incredible meandering through time and context to get to the core of that artist's beliefs and musical ideologies. Embarking on these kinds of journeys is always a delightful one, as many discographies contain massive surprises that shed a new light on an artist well known for one of their names, but not so much the others, and therein lies the magic of the multi-faceted artist. Their willingness to explore laid bare, their passion to absorb and construct obvious, their beliefs and creative will showing no signs of burning out or waning, as their strength in depth and numbers grows with each release under a new name, each one helping to populate a universe of sorts that resides deep in the star laden annuals of time. Its a gift that keeps on giving, one that never shys away from presenting audial experiences and journeys that do much to peek our curiosities, forever moving our views from one plain to the next as we see differing parts of an artist's character and creative ideology come into the spotlight. Journeys like these never occur by accident, but rely on the feel of the producer behind it, who feels and pushes the direction onwards and outwards to spaces that they touched on before but merely floated by, as not just one but multiple strands of genres are explored to provide us with the most compelling of audial narratives. Its a signal of a different era, where outputs were significant and new names were frequent, and it only led to further and further boundary pushing of what we conceived to be possible. Its a testament to their passion for music, a result of deep dedications to the sounds that swirled around so many American and European scenes at the time, where an environment of euphoria and immersion caused so many to follow the call to create music, such was electronic music's power and influence at the time, and as a result of consistent brilliance, the decade will be forever memorialised to the ages.
Certainly one of those artists who consistently pushed their own sonic boundaries and genre style was Barcelona DJ and producer Álex Martín, who oversaw a significant body of work that stretched itself out to include many of the decade's most important musical developments and styles. Martín's deep dedication to his craft began at a young age, when his mother - ever keen to encourage her young son's musical passions - purchased him a synthesiser and then a drum machine, which the budding music maker were relentlessly study for hours on end. It was here when a deep love affair would develop between Martín and his equipment, which when paired with the significant music that was coming out of Detroit, NYC, the UK and beyond, would inspire and nurture the producer into making his own music, which he would pair with his own interpretations and creative visions to great applause. During his career, Martín has used the string of releases that came under his own name as an anchor to branch out into different areas under new aliases, taking in everything from hard house, trance, future jazz, d'n'b and ambient, and with these forays into new territories providing a plethora of excellent tunes and showcasing how Martín was able to adapt his technical skills to new sounds and feels. His core sound in many ways reflects this adaptability and willingness to look beyond the parapet and see what else lurks on the horizon line of possibility, with differing representations of house and techno arriving continually throughout his career, whilst also offering up some highly important contributions to the universes of many other 90s orientated genres. It is the sign of a great artist when they are able to branch out and cover all bases of their sonic universe, and Martín does that not just with technical application but with a delightful enthusiasm that comes across from every single cut he has released in his distinguished career. There is a number of threads that run throughout his music, ones that interact on both a melodic level, a rhythmic level and an emotional one, where the three sequences intertwine and reverb off each other to great effect, always guided and nurtured significantly by Martín and his ever growing desire to explore and discover. Looking back over a brilliant discography, there are many favourites to highlight, starting off with the excellent 'Come Into Cosmos' record, that weaves and dips around IDM tinged techno rhythms and melodies, with the release arriving in 1995 under the Alex Martin Ensemble; the beautiful and enchanting 'Manufactured EP', that transfixes all who listen to its soft and tender soundscapes, which landed in 1995 under the Iberian name; the excellent room shaking rhythms found on the 'Unified Theory' record, that arrived under the Entity name in 2015; the incredible dual experience that occurs on the 'Ratiom' record, which arrived in 1994, and the brilliant and deeply enriching sounds that resonate from the 'Alias' release, that arrived last year, with both releases coming under the Sideral name; the mixture of straight up and the leftfield that reside within the 'Get 'Em Loud' record, that landed under the Fat Db name in 1996;
the gently speaking and undulating soundscapes that unravel so delicately from within the 'Chlorophile Fumes' record, which landed in 1994 and the equally softly spoken 'The World Before', which arrived in 1997, with both records landing under the Earcloud name (with Lars Müller); and finally, the quietly evolving and beautifully considered '4 Phunk', that arrived in 1996;
the fascinating and enriching sounds of the 'Eventual Extremes' record, that landed in 1998; the wickedly deep 'Liquen Drops' record, that landed in 1998; the minimal yet utterly infectious 'Acid Minion' LP, that arrived in 2015; and the forward thinking and emotionally charged 'Asimov' record, that arrived last year, with these records being released under his own name. In all, many producers in the 90s spread their wings and traversed through many differing scenes and musical contexts, but few did it in such glorious fashion and with such flair as Martín, who was able to retain his musical identity throughout with confidence and belief. We cannot recommend his works enough, so why not strap in and take a ride back through the ages to check out his phenomenal set of releases.
And now we arrive at the subject of today's review, a superb collection of some of Martín's finest tunes from his various aliases, entitled 'Classics 1994-1998', which is the second release on the Barcelona based Canela En Surco label. Within this record lies the very heart of Martín's works, with the tunes showcasing just how diverse and dynamic he was as a producer, able to shift between tones, tempos and emotional spaces with such ease. You have the chuggy acidic slow burners, the up tempo house pulses, the tech-house leaning energisers, its all here under one roof, and to say we are utterly blown away is an understatement. It speaks volumes that the label heads approach projects only when they hear the call of something special, and this compilation feels like a wonderful labour of love to release some beautiful tunes from an iconic producer. Its a journey through space, time and context, taking us through all the moods imaginable on a quest into the deepest reaches of the 90s, where boundless possibility felt constantly within reach and the star lit sky stretched onwards into infinity. So, without further delay, lets get into this absolute gem....
Up first comes 'Elipse', and the intro sets the scene for all that is going to be coming our way for the next 40 minutes or so. The synths float upwards from the depths, clearly applying themselves before evaporating into thin air, slinking away into the clouds, and before long their singular nature is ended with the introduction of the pulsating bass line that chugs away underneath, with soft percussive elements coming into view within the middle. Subtle solid synths join in through underneath, filling up the spaces that punctuate the rhythmic pulses of the lead key line, with their texture and feel operating so well as a density applicator. The overall structure is delicately composed, allowing all elements and sequences to float and sail within the deep blue hues, with the climax of this segment leading to a dip in rhythmic energy that sees a strong as hell acid line emerge to take over the space entirely. Its a beautiful build up, one that requires such care to pull off, but Martín takes care of proceedings impeccably. A beautiful way to kick things off. Up next comes 'Mare Nostrum', which arrived under the Sideral name, and the soundscape keeps much continuity from the previous cut. The acid line greets us right from the off, playfully grooving and swinging within the bedrock of cymbals and hats which emerges within the foundations, and before long we are greeted with perfectly placed chordal stabs that add weight and presence to the cut. These are quickly joined by soaring pads that add such a backdrop to the sequence, helping to add definition and scale to the track, presenting a sequence of melodics that do much to recede and swell with magnitude and purpose. The return to the acid led segment sees further melodic lines added in, making this intricate section just that little bit more complex and easy on the ear, with further percussive elements thrown in for good measure. This all culminates in the deep swells returning, as we return from out the tunnel and into a soundscape of colossal proportions, with their presence allowed to reside for a few moments before we return back to the interplays of the acid line, keys and drums. The way the track ebbs and flows is wonderful to get involved within, to delve deep into its complexities and understand all that it has to offer, its truly a dream like composition. Beautiful. Up next comes 'Butterfly', and the intricacies keep on coming with this one. The key lines are enticing, operating on three levels to really place us somewhere in the middle of a continually swirling space, with the drums responding in kind to match their playfulness and beauty. Before long, like with previous cuts, the textured sequences are paired beautifully with full chordal lines, in this instance adding a hefty weight to the background that gets the blood pumping on all kinds of levels, with their presence acting as a wonderful counter balance to the intertwining sequences. The overall picture sees both lines of inquiry move through the gears with an effortlessness and presence, eager to feel out all sides of the musical spectrum being displayed before us, as the background chords play their part in keeping the momentum going on strong. Excellent stuff.
Up next comes the final Sideral cut off the compilation, 'I Wanna Look To The Stars', and this one opens up to us like it says on the tin. The acid line is counter balanced with some delightful chordal work that chimes out in the backdrop, their rhythmic intentions not overtly clear but the manner in which that initial query is resolved is pure magic. Out of the sea of gorgeous sequences comes a wonderfully considered beat structure, one that swings and ebbs with the flowing nature of the melodic overtones perfectly, maintaining the balance to perfection as the track keeps the blood pumping through our veins. When in full flow its quite the sight indeed, with all aspects of the track wrapping around our hearts and minds as it purposefully moves along the darkened horizon, joining the dots between the flickering lights in the sky as it weaves through up into the cosmos. Glorious. Up next comes 'Incognita', and this might be the most impressive acid line yet. The kicks signal the tone of things to come, as they are quickly joined by dynamic drumming patterns on top in the form of toms and claps, with the acid line that emerges from this sea of percussion something to behold, rhythmically moving between notes with such meaning, and as it goes through its fourth sequence the hats arrive, and lift off is achieved. Before long we are joined by some sweeeeeet chords, which once more show Martín's ability to balance rhythmic sequences with soft chordal touches, with each second that passes just getting more and more perfect. A filtered breakbeat shines through on the right hand side, with its presence signalling a breakdown with a vocal line whispering across the warm plateau, as the track picks itself up and continues onwards and upwards with passion and meaning. This track really does live inside your head, long after its stopped playing. Beautiful stuff. Up next comes the first of three The Fat Db tracks, 'Can Make It', and this first one is a real beauty. The intro is full bloodied, with the drum beat presented complete and present with the melodic work on top adding a real presence, with a mixture of light stabs and soft rolling chords once more creating a euphoric sense of dynamism. The track builds and de-constructs with glee, moving between differing plains and compositions as it sweeps through the dance floor, its charming facade matched by an inherent deepness in relation to application. Each aspect works overtime to contribute to the groove, with that notion confirmed as the chiming rhodes like key solo comes into view, injecting a jazzy feel into proceedings. Its a final flourish in a wonderfully curated track, one that remains so uplifting and positive through and through.
Up next comes 'Planetarium', and this one takes it way down into the sub base. The bass line that greets us is hypnotic, weaving us around its little finger as it pushes onwards and upwards, quickly gathering all the elements it requires to push further and deeper than ever before, as the drums take heed to its call and muster so much strength in maintaining the energy. The track contains so much subtlety as it cascades forward, introducing little elements in and around the core drivers that do much to add to the intrigue, with switches in the drumming patterns and additional key lines do wonders in crafting a momentum that cannot be put down. Wonderful stuff. Up next comes 'Twirl', and this one starts off in a rhythmically mesmerising place. This cut maintains an incredible pulse right from the off, working within all its channels to showcase a rhythm that is unstoppable, with the melodic features caught within its vortex holding up an incredible percussive structure that is able to capture the slightest of undulations within its deep tones. The track whips up a whirlwind around us - much like the name of the cut - that remains steady for a while, before a switch up in energy sees the drums become more echo like, their power only transferring to a new state of sonic perfection, as a slight melodic sequence aligns itself within the top echelons of the track, adding further to its overall direction towards the core of the earth. The track takes time for a short breather, but before long we are back in full swing, and its the little touches here that make all the difference, and we for one are massively impressed. Bravo. To wrap things up, we have 'Firewall', which arrived under the A3K name. The drumming pattern is as always expertly conceived and designed, providing plenty of room for elements to come in and inhabit, with the first such feature to arrive being the deep almost melodic leaning drumming line, which sets things up nicely for the arriving key line to come into view. It glides across the top ends of the track, easing and feeling its way across the plain of sound, before giving way for some wonderfully placed stabs to come into view, with additional metallic notes exploding in and out of view. The track takes a dip in energy before releasing itself once more, with the climax of this latest sequence arriving with the big expansive chords that drive the track into euphoria and beyond. Its one final triumph, a last hurrah of a record that will continue to give over more and more with each listen, pretty much encapsulated with this epic 10 minute long journey through the galaxies and into the heavens themselves, transported along by a producer of such talent, able to weave together utterly compelling soundscapes that remain diverse and uncluttered. You feel like you are moving between differing climates, differing contexts and spaces, with each place constructed and conceived by different moods and emotions, a reflection of an artist with much to say and the ability to convey it all into recordings.
Compilations composed of an artist's back catalogue always do a great job at conveying their thinking and stylistic choices during a particular period of time, be it focusing on just one train of thought or perhaps many strands of artistic expressionism. And with this compilation, you get the best picture possible of Alex Martín and his 90s endeavours, with each tune contributing to an overall feeling of utter astonishment. We breeze through delicate acid laden techno, through to house driven beauties, via enchanting up tempo techno numbers and beyond, never loosing sight of Martín's messages and beliefs when it comes to his music. Playful, intricate and brilliantly balanced, its truly a remarkable meandering through into his past works, a collection of tracks that never fail to amaze or intrigue, delight or tantalise. It might be the start of 2021, but this is certainly up there with the reissues and compilations of the year. Stunning in every sense of the word.
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