Compulsion | PO Box 19577 | Kilbarchan |Johnstone | PA10 2WX | Scotland | UK

Kevin Richard Martin - Sirens

The, uh, birth of Sirens the first solo album from the The Bug and King Midas Sound mainman is quite convoluted. It was originally conceived as a sound art performance piece involving sirens, foghorns and bass for Nik Nowak's Echo exhibition in 2014. However, a sequence of events following the birth of his child, during which Kevin Martin was still composing Sirens, would see both mother and son experience medical difficulties resulting in them both undergoing life threatening operations at different times and for very different reasons. Those experiences seeped into the composition of Sirens. Fortunately both mother and son survived, but Kevin Martin returned to the events and experiences to create a further iteration of Sirens for his appearance at the 2015 CTM festival. This album is, in essence, its third revision.

Sirens is a soundtrack where he remembers, addresses and tries to come to term with the trauma of these very personal events. Everything you need to know is in the track titles, 'There Is A Problem', 'Life Threatening Operation 2', 'Alarms', 'The Surgeon', 'Mechanical Chatter In The I.C.U.', 'Necrosis', 'Loss Of Consciousness', which seem to chronologically piece together the traumatic sequence of events. Heaviness isn't anything new to Kevin Martin. Before The Bug and King Midas Sound, his previous projects God and Techno Animal (with Justin Broadrick) revelled in brutal onslaughts. Sirens in its own quiet way also deals in brutality and heaviness, due to the nature of events, but for Sirens, this time, he leans on drones and electronics to create sound pieces of shudders, vibrations and pulses. Sirens opens to 'There Is A Problem' where a disembodied vibraphone chime plays a simple melody, like a slowed down nursery tune. It's a motif that recurs throughout Sirens, slowed down, buried deep or nestled within tumultuous realms. Sirens is probably the closest thing to a soundtrack he has released. 'Bad Dream' wrestles with uneasy drone discombobulations and deep low end vibrations. Its otherworldliness reflecting that dissociative sense you get when you feel you're watching yourself from afar. An involuntary disconnect to avoid the trauma of the ongoing situation, perhaps. This is what it sounds like to watch powerless as your wife and child suffer. Sirens doesn't avoid feelings. The slow pulses and subdued shifting drones of 'After The Party' convey a sense of time passing, dead time spent pacing and fidgeting in hospital wards and waiting rooms. Helpless. Left alone with your thoughts. An undercurrent of distortion rips through, as if an attack of panic has just hit.

One of the most quietly effective pieces here is 'Life Threatening Operation 2' which feels like we're observing the life saving medical procedure in slow motion. Gentle billows of drone based manifestations are punctuated by the rise and fall of arching synths, as if we're focussing, obsessing even, on those tiny breath exhalations as an indicator of life. A distinct sense of mortality is to be found here, especially when noise levels escalate into harrowing realms. That danger and cry for assistance and help is made more apparent on 'Alarms' where the recurring nursery rhyme motif chimes melodically as if unaware of the accompanying wailing sirens from the numerous bedside monitors and devices. 'Too Much' beats to a pulsing, stuttering heartbeat, its churning electronics edging into fluctuating noise as it returns to a sense of fear and apprehension. That anxiety sinks further on 'The Deepest Fear' with arching cavernous quakes emitting haunting shrieks expressing that sense of dread felt within the pit of your stomach, when the realisation of the severity of the situation takes hold.

If the intimacy of the previous tracks shine a light on feelings then the 'The Surgeon' and 'Mechanical Chatter In The I.C.U.' lean more heavily on suspense filled soundtracks reflecting the sterility of the medical procedures. A rising sustained shriek drapes the vague melodic motif on 'The Surgeon', a melody which is torn apart on 'Mechanical Chatter In The I.C.U.' obscured by glinting, piercing tones, creeps onwards in hollow pulses and slo-mo reverberations. Kevin Martin may be renowned for big bass shudders but the only noticeable bass sounds really apparent on Sirens are the singular low end tones set amidst the elongated melodic ambience and dark fermentations of the soundtrack styled 'Necrosis'.

Sirens, however, doesn't solely dwell on despair and darkness. Moments of light are found within the darkness. 'Kangaroo Care' couches warming melodic atmospherics cast against disembodied distortion to show the power and the intimacy that human touch can bring even within the bleakest conditions. Harmonious overtones hovers over a rush of distortion on 'Loss Of Consciousness', while 'Finalling' renders the recurring motif in foggy hues as sound shudders rise and dissipate as it moves into the chiming electronics of the closing track, 'A Bright Future'. Sirens ring out here not as call for help but optimistically, augmenting the melody in the style of a main soundtrack score, as if Kevin Martin has absorbed and processed the experience into something positive.

Birth for most parents is a positive, joyous experience, so Kevin Marin should be commended for showing the unfortunate flipside when things go wrong and soundtracking the rollercoaster of emotions and feelings he went through ranging from elation and joy, through fear, despair, tension and panic and back to joy. It's a personal and intimate recording highlighting the many lows and occasional highs rendered in textured and expressive drones and electronics. At times, it veers into dark ambient shot through with a heavy dose of real emotion. Truth be told I don't keep up with the music of Kevin Martin as much as I do his contemporary Justin Broadrick but listening to Sirens I keep getting a nagging reminder that his first release as God who, as we said revelled in extremity, was titled Breach Birth. Listening to Sirens now, and reading about what he and his family have gone through, I suspect now a breech birth would have been more preferable to what life has just subjected them to. Sirens is a deeply personal release transforming the emotions felt during these traumatic events into a captivating and unsettling soundtrack but it will resonate with anyone who has experienced the fragility of life. Sirens is released digitally and on black and limited clear vinyl on Lawrence English's Room40 label. Sirens is available at Room40