[DISCLAIMER] I received the .wav files prior to the release from Nectarios for review, but I also ordered my own copy from Arabesque. I encourage you do the same!
01. Martian Arts - Dali Mountains
02. Martian Arts & Eat Static - Giant Locusts
03. Martian Arts & Radical Frequencies - There Is No Time
04. Martian Arts - Assagao
05. Martian Arts - Velos
06. The Rave Commission - Skunk Funk
07. Martian Arts - Discrete Circuit
08. Martian Arts & Ingrained Instincts - Downward Dog
09. Martian Arts - We Get Out
Full-on music has always been there within the wider psychedelic trance genre, as a bridge between the “lighter” styles of prog, morning and goa; and the “darker” ones: forest, hi-tech, darkpsy. Over the years that sub-genre took a lot of shapes and forms, but the common denominator was constant: fast tempo, hard sounds, sparse - but present - melodic content and focus on short riffs and patterns. For my personal taste, the British brand of full-on - which I always conveniently labelled just as “true psychedelic trance” - was ticking the most boxes: it was full of funky grooves, acid lines, sonic experiments and …humour! Check back the releases of Green Nuns, Cosmosis from their Synergy / Intergalactic years, OOOD / Voice of Cod, early EVP or Sean ‘Process’ Williams sound design to see what I mean. Today’s full-on either borders on darkpsy (e.g. releases from Sangoma, Wildthings, Bom Shanka), gets dangerously close to prog or ‘normal’ melodic trance (e.g. Dacru, Ovnimoon) or turned itself into a homogeneous pulp, with no redeeming character (Nano Rec.).
It was refreshing then, to find out that Nectarios Meidanis aka Martian Arts will finally release an album on TIP Records! Those that followed his career, will likely remember him from two free full-lengths on Ektoplazm as Disco Hooligans (with Jordan Bonyo) released in 2009 and 2010 and over the last 6 years numerous collaborations with the likes of Eat Static, Manmademan and others. His sound fills exactly the gap in today's full-on landscape: it's charmingly funky, groovy and contains the right amount of good melodic riffs, to balance the light and the dark. For those in-the-know there’s an additional twist, because Nectarios is a huge fan of analog modular synths and is eagerly incorporating those sounds in his music, making it very alive, fluid, organic and at the same time otherworldly alien and bizarre. Lots of artist try to recreate that sound via digital software, but there's simply no faking it - the sound of electrons flowing through circuits, tamed by analog gates, shaped by self-oscillating filters and orchestrated by voltage-controlled sequencers is like no other. There's chaos and randomness, there's imperfections and there's life.
The album doesn't seem to have any main theme or thread, making it more of a collection of dance(able) tunes - some are more melodic, some are slightly more focused on sound experimentations, but all of them are of very high caliber: usually start with beat and ‘chaotic’ analog sequences, leading into some melodic riffs - either in-your-face or very vague, almost subsurface. In contrast to the British artists I mentioned earlier, it's not very acidic and instead relies more on the scratchy, skipping and stuttering sounds and effects to build the tension. It sounds very cybernetic, but because of the analog gear it's also very gentle, smooth and pleasant, unlike a lot of ear-drilling digital-only music out there. The melodic bits are really well done as well - short and concise (it not goa-trance by any means), but add a lot of lushness to the otherwise aggressive music and take advantage of the hardware, i.e. are cleverly modulated over time, emerge organically from the sonic chaos, are chopped up mercilessly, but beautifully. The music is also varied in terms of feeling and texture - after 2-3 listens I could already tell the tracks apart, which nowadays is rare and praiseworthy.
Is it perfect? Not quite - sometimes the arrangements do not work to their fullest and the momentum / energy is lost in second half or last third, other times some sounds are not fully in tune with the rest (an inherent beauty and curse of analog circuitry…). But it's really, REALLY damn close! Favourite tracks? Difficult to tell, because they're all very good, but to my taste “There Is No Time”, “Skunk Funk”, “Velos”, “Discrete Circuit” and "Downward Dog" take the cake for being the closest to that old-school trippiness of Cosmosis & Green Nuns, with just perfect balance between sonic experimentation, twisted acid lines, patchwork-y melodic riffs and funk. The (slight) let downs? Probably “Dali Mountains” and “Assagao” for offloading their - otherwise awesome! - stuff a bit too early and then meandering aimlessly until the end (they’d be perfect at 6:00 duration). Similarly, the titular “Giant Locusts” with Eat Static while instantly recognisable from the lumbering, mechanical and droning acid-housey stabs; seems slightly unfocused - neither here nor there. Incidentally, “Parallel World” with Martian Arts on Eat Static’s latest album was top notch, so I'm looking forward to their albums as Strontium Dogs scheduled for release later this year.
TL;DR - if, like me, you appreciate creative, analog sound design and are longing for the trippy sound of British psychedelic trance, defined by funky and groovy rhythms, sprinkled with good melodic riffs, acid lines and emergent beauty found in sonic ‘accidents’; then you owe it to yourself to purchase it this instant! Go now!!! Otherwise, take a listen as well - in my book it stands proudly next to the recent(ish) full-on heavyweights like Master Blasters, Hypnocoustics or PsiloCybian.
Extra points for the cover - it's beautiful, colorful and charmingly tacky, in the best tradition of TIP Records