J. Martin – Both of Those Things EP (2019)
By Lance Sobotka
Tacoma is a wild place. Its musical history is every bit as rich as its Emerald City sister’s (in fact, some would say a lot of the “Seattle” bands that went on to be famous were actually from Tacoma or at least the South End. Nirvana. The Sonics. Look it up.)
It’s a city of hyper individualism. Sounds and trends come and go but in Tacoma, you’re far more likely to see a bill full of bands that sound nothing like each other than three trend-driven cutie bands that sound like a Spotify-curated playlist.
Hyper individualism and creative lawlessness are the hallmarks of Grit City’s songwriter J. Martin and his new EP Both of Those Things. A stalwart of the Tacoma music scene for the better part of a decade, Martin fronted Oh Dear before striking out on his own. His first solo release, “Awake or Dream” was a transcendent blend of the melancholy and sublime, folk rock with psychedelic flourishes that accented Martin’s voice and lyrical narrative perfectly.
On Both of Those Things, six years removed from his debut, Martin’s artistic ambition is in full view and that vision is expansive, arrangements alternating between massive and minuscule at a moment’s notice, and masterfully honed. The psychedelic flourishes from his first EP are full grown, the production is immaculate.
Leadoff track “Lost in My Mind” is a masterful chamber rock send-up, Martin’s voice narrating the madness as the vast instrumentation takes the lead. “Hand of Nothing” captures the heart of modern indie rock with the 32-year-old’s voice alternating between his higher and lower registers on the verses and choruses.
“Hand of Nothing” bleeds into the introduction of “Way Out,” swirling reversed strings and ornate piano synths create a world for the troubadour’s contemplative lyrics to breathe before a crescendo brings the listener back to a Muse-esque soundscape. “Orphan” brings Brian Wilson vibes, Martin’s tone and tenor is softer, wary, curious.
The EP ends with the title track “Both of Those Things,” perhaps the best recorded statement of the Martin’s talent and vision. Delicate piano, guitar and drums start things off as Martin croons delicately. The chorus fuses contemporary rock production with moody guitars to create a sense of free floating-ness. Martin’s voice shines the brightest on the title track before it cascades into a round of madness before the album ends.
It’s rare that a songwriter demonstrates equal command of the writing, arrangement and production end of making a record. With a vision large enough to fit the entire city of Tacoma inside it, J. Martin adds another great release to Tacoma’s already-lengthy list of incredible recordings.