PREVIEW: Matt Martians – The Drum Chord Theory

It’s late November in Los Angeles. Tyler, The Creator‘s annual ‘Camp Flog Gnaw’ festival united the the hipsters, hippies and hip-hop heads at LA’s Olympic Park, for an acid-drenched weekend that saw the likes of A$AP Rocky, Chance The Rapper, Kaytranada and The Internet perform.

Now, two days after the festival, the city is feeling more subdued. Tyler’s voice no longer echoes announcements on the metro, there’s a distinct lack of underage kids begging for alcohol in the 7-Eleven, and the weekend’s revellers are shuffling back to their day jobs. This return to normality isn’t just true for attendees, but also for the artists too.

In a home near a quiet suburb of the city we join The Internet, known to most people as former Odd Future members Syd (‘Tha Kyd’) and Matt Martians. While most artists would be busy reliving the highs of playing in front of thousands of people a few days earlier, this group are different. When we arrive Syd is in the band’s rehearsal room, multi-tasking between conversation, smoking and setting up new equipment. Chris, the ‘nets drummer, is planning his kit for the next tour. Meanwhile Matt Martians, the band’s co-founder, is considering the track listing for his forthcoming solo album The Drum Chord Theory.

“Tyler sent this beat for the album” he says as he runs down the potential tracklist. “Me and Steve [Lacy] are gonna finish recording to it tomorrow”.

The Martian

Matt Martians is a multi-hyphenate, as in producer-writer-illustrator-singer hailing from Atlanta, Georgia. Unbeknownst to many, he’s collaborated with the likes of SBTRKT, been sampled by Kendrick Lamar, and is regularly mentored by Thundercat. He effortlessly helped it-girl Kilo Kish transition from model to singer when he produced her debut EP Homeschool, and his other group The Jet Age Of Tomorrow reached cult status among the tumblr crowd.

Matt’s career began when Odd Future rose to fame in 2010. Whilst the group contained clear stars (Frank Ocean, anyone?) Matt and bandmate Syd made a conscious effort to stay behind the scenes until the time was right, instead choosing to carve their own sound away from the hype, working under the guise of The Internet.

It was a risky move, but the gamble paid off when their third album Ego Death – funnily enough a title related to LSD trips – was released to critical acclaim, earning the band a nomination at the 2016 Grammys. “It’s weird, people have started recognising us nowm,” he says when we probe about life after Ego Death “It’s cool though. Our fans are chill.”

The Drum Chord Theory

For Matt, The Drum Chord Theory is an unusual step into the spotlight from a producer that’s reluctant to be in the public eye. So why the change to being a solo artist?

“I feel like with The Internet, people are always guessing ‘oh Steve did this, oh I can tell you did that’. By doing solo albums we can really show people [who does what]”. Matt continues to explain his theory on how you can make a good song from some “hard ass drums and good chords”, hence the albums title.

We head down to the basement to take a listen. Matt turns out the lights, replacing them with spinning purple and green LED’s that shine across the walls like stars. The mood is set, he pulls out his Macbook and hits play.

“It’s really an album that tells a story… It’s a guy, he’s having problems with a girl. Then he takes some acid.”

Album opener ‘Spend The Night / If You Were My GF’ sets the tone immediately, a funk-soaked tale of kicking a girl out of your house, before switching up – both sonically and lyrically – to explain how things would be different if the relationship were more solid.

Thematically, the first half of the album tells the tale of a guy struggling with love. Perfect ideals clash with doubts & uncertainty, as guitars and synthesizers set a scene that’s part-romance, part-angst.

Hard drums, heavy claps, and percussion snap through each song in unpredictable rhythms. Alien sounds pepper every track – a woman’s scream, the whir of a synthesizer and what sounds like the coil of a spring, litter the soundscape. All tied together by sumptuous jazz chords – whether they be from strings, synthesizers or a Rhodes piano. The array of sounds shouldn’t work, but it does.

Southern Isolation brings the first half of the album to a close – a laid-back summer groove and an emotive standout on the album that recalls the early 00’s. “Summer nights,” he sings, as the sweeping soundscape draws in as if we’re being enveloped by that time itself.

A brief interlude see’s the albums protagonist exclaims “I found me some acid!” and immediately the album takes a sudden turn. This is where the album’s concept comes into play.

“It’s really an album that tells a story,” Matt says. “It’s a guy, he’s having problems with a girl. Then he takes some acid. You can hear it. The first half is more me straight up singing. After I find the acid it gets weirder.”

He’s right – there’s a decidedly more experimental edge. The vocals a little woozier, the synths wonkier, and spaced-out phasing washes over the instrumentation.

For all of it’s experimentation, there are still pop moments. Dent Jusay sees Internet bandmates Steve Lacy & Syd join the party for a sing-along track full of energy that will undoubtedly be a fan favourite. Meanwhile Down blends phased trip-hop drums with a deep vocal. The lyrics “I’m down, can’t we just get back to where we start?” seem destined to be a hipster breakup anthem for 2017.

The album’s single Diamond In Da Ruff (a song that was great as a stand-alone) makes much more sense in the context of the album. Replacing all doubt and concern with a happy resolution “I’ve found my diamond in the rough”.

The album toys with genre throughout. Combing elements of electro, R&B, soul, funk and rock. However, if one word ties it all together it’s ‘Psychedelic’. The level of experimentation will undoubtedly be too alien for some ears, yet it has a distinct character and cartoon-like sense of emotion that’s certain to win over fans.

When we finish listening we explain how it strikes you with its sense of feeling. You can hear a mix of modern LA, ATLien era Outkast, and space-age Virginia. “A lot of people tell me they hear Atlanta in it. Some say they hear Cali. I don’t think about it too much,” he responds.

For someone who named an album after his own theory, this sounds like a contradiction. But what else should we expect from a Martian?

Aaron Whyte

The Drum Chord Theory releases on January 27th through AWAL/Kobalt Music and is available for pre-order here.

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PREVIEW: Matt Martians - The Drum Chord Theory
PREVIEW: Matt Martians - The Drum Chord Theory