Red Martian are an alternative rock/shoegaze band hauling from Seattle, Washington. They formed back in 1999, emerging from the Seattle D.I.Y. punk scene. They cite their main influences as shoegazers My Bloody Valentine, glam rock band New York Dolls and punk rock legend Iggy Pop.
They describe their style as ‘neue shoegazer’ which front man Stephen Jones sees as “a rebirth of the late 80’s, early 90’s progression of post-Paisley Underground”. They have previously released five CDs, six vinyl LPs and four acetate limited edition EPs through their own label, and this album, Ghost In The Fog, is their sixth. Notably, it was produced by Gordon Raphael (The Strokes, Regina Spektor).
The title track opens the album with an ominous bass line and haunting guitar line before bursting into an intense short section of serrated-edge high end guitar. The verse strips back to acoustic guitar, with Stephen Jones’ distinctive vocals immediately capturing the attention. Though his voice his set back in the mix, his Elliott Smith-esque tone is compelling.
The lyrics are impressionistic and opaque, which works perfectly with the other worldly sound of the music: “See the ghost out of town, see them laugh as a frown…”. Though there is no obvious chorus, the title repeated proves an addictive hook. There is a brooding quality throughout achieved by subtle layers of guitar noise, which is the hallmark of shoegaze. A fine opener.
Second track None is even better, starting with a section that makes clever use of syncopation, breaking up the rhythm effectively. It then develops into a colossal wall of sound driven along by a pulsing, ascending bass line. Here Jones sings at the top of his range, which in itself creates a sense of musical tension.
As the track continues, the My Bloody Valentine style lead guitars become more and more layered, joined also by some ‘out there’ guitar effects until it is a veritable tsunami of sound. Once again, the lyrics are somewhat dark and mysterious: “Down way to carry you, bury you in down a ground no sound no sound….”.
The third track on the album is called みなぞう (good luck announcing that on radio). It’s another blistering song that starts out like something from Sonic Youth’s classic Daydream Nation album. The energy continues its momentum on the verse with an addictive high end riff and leads to the great line: “You’re a monster, a friendly kind… from my home town“. This is one of the most instant songs on the album and would be a good choice for a single. It completes a powerful opening trifera.
Track four, Undertow, continues the overall sound though at a slower pace. The way the vocal melody climbs on the chorus is ethereal, as are the reverb-drenched backing vocals/harmonies. Once again, the lyrics add to the mystery and read almost like a haiku poem: “Reaching gives a sign, there is no place this time, be mine, I do not mind to be a kind…”.
By contrast, the lyrics to the fifth song Use, seemingly about a psychologically unhealthy relationship, are altogether more direct: “Abuse me, beat me up and bruise me, push me to the ground from the inside then down…”. Though these lyrics sound literal, they still keep one foot in the world of the surreal: “You take me to the shore and burn it down once more…”. It’s another album highlight, whatever its true meaning.
This is followed by another four and a half minute track, Won’t, which features a guitar sound that, not for the first time, makes ample use of the tremolo bar. As with all the best showcase/alternative rock there is a gorgeously pretty vocal melody amidst the barrage of noise, and Red Martian have perfected this dichotomy.
Seventh song Ingenting is a nice contrast, with acoustic guitar taking over from the army of electric guitars and at a slower pace than the rest. A haunting theremin-esque synth adds to the musical mystique and the lyrics are difficult to decipher even by their standards: they are in Swedish.
Final track Ago returns to more familiar fare, with another vibrant Joy Division/Interpol style bass line driving the music forward. It’s actually one of the most melodic songs here and a nice way to close a fine album. Lyrically, it’s typically enigmatic: “Tomorrow seems so strange today, we always want to stay underground, the empty sound is on the ground…”.
Overall, this is an excellent album that takes the best elements from their favourite genres and combines them to form a unique, potent sound. Whereas some shoegaze music can be self indulgent, or incoherent, Red Martian are equally influenced by punk which ensures their music is always focused. They may “want to stay underground” but if there’s any justice, this album should propel them to new heights of success.
Verdict: 8.8 out of 10