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Felix Martin

Felix Martin - Mechanical Nations album art

Mechanical Nations

24th February 2017 – Self-released

1. Flashback
2. Carnatt
3. Eight Moon Headdress
4. Nomadic Tree
5. Da House Cat
6. Cosmo Basket
7. Bom
8. Bom Continues
9. Cardboard Roofs
10. Santos (Ft. Angel Vivaldi)
11. Barquisimetal
12. King Zartman
13. Four Handed Giant
14. Canaima
15. Bridge Clock Disparity

As we’ve said before, there’s no better indication of being a truly progressive musician than having to get custom instruments built to accommodate your playing style. Felix Martin’s twin-necked guitars and simultaneous, two-hand tapping technique are practically without peer, but he hasn’t exploited this originality as an excuse to rest on his laurels. Previously, Felix used an instrument with fourteen strings – but has now decided that wasnt enough(!) and has now upgraded to a sixteen string configuration for Mechanical Nations.

Felix’s last release, The Human Transcription, was something of an intellectual exercise, teasing musical melodies out of the patterns of human speech. Mechanical Nations is a more conventional collection of fifteen tracks, like 2013′s The Scenic Album – well, as conventional as Felix gets anyway. Exclusively instrumental, and backed up by long-time bassist Killian Duarte and drummer Victor Alvarez, Felix wastes no time on interludes or introductions, diving headlong into first track “Flashback“.

For the completely uninitiated, describing the sound of the trio is something of a challenge. It is a heady cocktail drawing from metal, funk and jazz, with a topping of Latin American influence, thanks to his Venezuelan roots. There also a few driving, percussive moments that seem to draw from the world of electronica, too.

Perhaps the single most impressive magic trick of the trio lies in their ability to create complex, challenging music that consistently retains a tangible sense of fun. This marriage of head-bending ability and unashamed playfulness is rarely seen outside the worlds of bands like Primus or Fantômas, and fans of both will find much to enjoy here.

Mechanical Nations sees the group operating more as a unit than previously, with a greater degree of interplay between Felix and his rhythm section. Killian’s basslines – full of slaps, pops and growls – feel more tightly woven in with Felix’s guitar lines, leading to an even richer, fuller sound. The likes of “Carnatt” and “Bom” also see Felix pushing his cascades of notes to ever greater levels of complexity.

Felix extended his pallette with the addition of two more strings, turning his necks into a pair of eight strings, but has used this new range sparingly, making it all the more effective when he does head into those lower registers, like in “Nomadic Tree” and “Barquismetal“. There’s also a more traditional guitar solo in “Santos“, and its conventional nature is an almost jarring reminder of how far from those conventions Felix wanders.

If there is a downside to Mechanical Nations, it is that fifteen tracks all at once does start to feel like a bit too much of a good thing, especially once the novelty factor of Felix’s approach has worn off. The tracks also sit in that weird spot where they’re a bit too involved for background listening, but also don’t quite have the variety for sustained, repeat listening. Once you’ve figured out exactly what the hell is going on, Mechanical Nations is best enjoyed by dipping in and out, rather than ploughing through the whole thing.

This does not detract, however, from the overall achievement of the album, which is considerable. Especially with the progress made in integrating Felix’s techniques into the context of a full band. In effect, Mechanical Nations feels like the definitive template for Felix’s basic sound, so it’s possible that another album in this configuration would feel like retreading old ground. But The Human Transcription has already proved Felix’s capacity for concocting imaginative ways to employ this sound, so we hope that there are more in the pipeline. It would also be interesting to see what happens if this music is paired with vocals.

Irrespective of what happens in the future, Mechanical Nations is a timely reminder that it is still possible to conjure a genuinely original sound, even if you might have to build a new instrument to get there. Fans of the truly progressive should pay close attention.

Simon

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