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The essence of Martyn’s new album, The Air Between Words, doesn’t emerge until 40 minutes in—when, on “Like That,” the LP’s persistent thump gives way to the sound of crackling vinyl. Worn samples are rare in dance music these days, which could be why Martyn included it in the first place: The northern Virginia producer, Holland-born Martijn Deijkers, wanted to create something less rooted in the now and more indicative of the pop on which he grew up. “I used to have all the latest programs, but I threw all that out,” Martyn told Washington City Paper in April. “I’m enjoying the physical process of making music again.”
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That back-to-basics approach frames The Air Between Words, a patchwork of synth pop and soulful house that reimagines the best of those subgenres. Instead of imitating the sounds of yesterdecade, Martyn pulls small pieces from the 1980s and ’90s to create his own breezy brew. On “Glassbeadgames,” the producer flirts with R&B’s New Jack Swing era, taking drumbeats like those made famous by composer Teddy Riley and adding what sounds like a Michael Jackson falsetto. Sure, it’s danceable, but the album isn’t made for mindless movement at an underground dance joint. It’s EDM that you truly listen to, an elaborately designed prism of hazy tones that speak to Martyn’s newfound sense of self.
To prepare for recording The Air Between Words, Martyn studied Taoism and stepped away from the mainstream dance scene, which wasn’t as glamorous as he’d imagined. “I’ve seen the machine behind electronic music,” he told City Paper recently. “A lot of EDM musicians think they have their own careers, but it’s just the machine telling you what to do.” And in many ways, Air is a middle finger to a homogenized industry that doesn’t embrace creativity. Martyn’s previous album, 2011’s Ghost People, offered what was essentially a sophisticated take on dubstep, making him a draw for big-time EDM festivals. But on Air, he bucks the genre’s conventions. His irreverence is a fitting backdrop for album standout “Love of Pleasure,” an edgy—albeit mechanical—tune he softens with a classical piano, and “Drones,” where light electric keys give the head-nodding, quick-paced tune a jazzy vibe.
In the end, The Air Between Words works because of its chameleonic nature. Though the album scans as EDM, Martyn filters his creations through drum-n-bass and other traditional genres, making the sound into something deeper, something that rests outside the usual confines of instrumental music and within the realm of spiritual expression. There’s nothing wrong with starting over.