Wednesday 22 December 2021

Martians - You are Here (2021)

Country: Czechia
Style: Alternative
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 27 Nov 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

I'm reviewing an increasing number of submissions from Czechia, but that's mostly due to a couple of musicians being both versatile and prolific. This band, which could be called Martins as much as Martians, given that both its members are named Martin, is a project set up by a pair of musicians who were major players in other bands I've reviewed. Martin Schuster, who sings and plays guitars and bass, along with undetermined virtual instruments, is a key player in Mindwork, whose Cortex EP got an 8/10 from me in January; and Martin Spacosh Peřina, on guitars and more of those virtual instruments, is the man behind Beween the Planets, whose third album, Parallel World, also featured a guest appearance by Schuster.

What's telling is that neither of those bands sound much like Martians. Mindwork play prog metal and Between the Planets is a post-rock project with some djent and post-metal. This, on the other hand, isn't metal at all. The closest genre to lump it into is alternative rock, with Radiohead much closer to mind than, say, Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails. There are pop melodies here, but it's always rock music at heart; it's very accessible, sometimes soothing and never abrasive; and accessibility makes it seem a lot simpler than it is. There's a lot going on here.

"We're here to tear down some musical barriers", they say on their Bandcamp page and I can see that from the very opener. A Soul of New Days is a soft song, very melodic, with one guitar taking a folky line and another (if it isn't a keyboard) adopting more of a percussion role. There's gentle, dreampop progression to it but it drops away two thirds of the way through into an instrumental post-rock piece that makes us ponder on what the song is telling us. It's much deeper than it may initially seem.

Many of these songs do the same thing. They're constructed very carefully so as to seem like they haven't been constructed very carefully. They set a mood that's dreamy or haunting or playful or whatever and they immerse us in that, so that whenever the traditional song, with riffs and hooks and verses and the like, gives way to something else entirely, we can't help but assume that it's a very deliberate act to tell us something and we sit back and examine what it's doing to figure that out. Radiohead do this a lot too, especially on their more experimental albums, and their ability to work on two layers—accessible music that just sounds good and thoughtful music that rewards an inquisitive listener—always impressed me. Martians have that down too.

It's not all Radiohead or other prog-infused alternative rock bands. Much of this, like Abusing the Muse, took me further back to the eighties, mostly to British indie bands like the Cocteau Twins or Shriekback, but Worm Nest shakes up that completely because it feels German. It kicks off as new wave with whispered vocals and an electronic beat, and moves firmly into post-punk and rock, with a neatly jagged riff. I'm no expert on that era, especially when we hop over to the continent, but I love how this one shifts so emphatically from electronica to guitar and back again, ending with piano. It's quite the journey and it's all seamlessly done.

While Worm Nest is my favourite song here, with Abusing the Muse up there too, I also dig Deceiver a lot, because its infectious melodies got under my skin, and Story of the End, with its glitchy beats and minimalist instrumentation. Most of the latter is vocals, clean and manipulated in duet, and it has a timeless feel to it. Not everything stands out like these songs so I'm going to give You are Here a 7/10 for now, but this is an album I can imagine coming back to over and over, so I may well find myself upping that to an 8/10 later.

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