Kevin Martin and Dylan Carson might not seem like the most obvious of musical collaborators.
As the founder and guitarist of the American ambient metal pioneers Earth, Carson has spent almost three decades slowing rock music down into tectonic motions. His music oozes like a lava flow.
Martin's output as The Bug, on the other hand, could easily be described as skittish. A restless fusion of dub, dancehall and industrial music, it exists in a constant state of jittery movement.
What does unite Carson and Martin is a sustained engagement with the heavy and the intense, with the ability of the ostensibly ugly to yield hidden beauty.
The pair met while Martin was recording Angels and Devils (2014), The Bug's most recent record. An EP followed, in which Carson's guitar and Martin's bass beats were fused together. After being asked to perform live together, they decided to further explore the intersections of their sounds.
“Dylan, being the master craftsman he is, provides the layers of guitar that are essential to this album,” says Martin. “It was his signature sound that inspired me to write the initial sketches for the album's tracks. His sound epitomises a nostalgic, open America that I took the liberty of perverting.”
Concrete Desert is the result. Inspired by LA's demimonde, the current distortion of the American dream and the urban dystopias of J. G. Ballard's novels, it brings a new sense of cinema to the oeuvre of both.
To commemorate Concrete Desert's release, Jocks & Nerds caught up with the duo to hear what tracks inspire them.
Burning Spear - Farther East of Jack
Dylan Carson: This is one of the dub treatments of ‘Marcus Garvey' off The Ghost, the dub version of their first record. I’m a big fan of dub both as a genre and a philosophical approach to music. I admire the way it adds to the music through what is a subtractive process, reducing a song to its bare essentials – whether it’s the rhythm track, bassline, a vocal part or a horn part. I like the way it creates importance for the space as well as the notes. And leads nicely to my next choice.
Miles Davis - Johnny Bratton
Dylan Carson: I consider Teo Macero's and Miles’s work during the era from In a Silent Way through to his silent period as akin to the methods of dub in a different context than reggae. This time its jazz with rock – though I dislike gentrification, I’m using it as a necessary evil for descriptive purposes. The way that Teo recorded the players – many didn’t even know exactly what song they were playing on – and how him and Miles would create the songs with parts from all the sessions again reducing songs to their minimum, dispensing with intricate chord progressions and just using the improvised parts to create swathes of sound.
Pat Martino - Baiyina
Dylan Carson: Love the mix of eastern sounds and jazz guitar. The tambura drones a repetitious progression of non standard chords (tritones) and a killer solo as well as tabla and flute.
Sly & the Family Stone - Africa Talks to You
Dylan Carson: I love the idiosyncratic, claustrophobic nature of this album. It’s basically Sly by himself in a basement studio in Oakland.
J.J. Cale - Naturally
Dylan Carson: A big influence on me and an example of American dub.
David Bowie - Warszawa
Kevin Martin: I guess the combination of beauty and melancholy that Bowie and Eno perfected on this album has stayed with me. And just as Berlin influenced the pair, LA heavily inspired the narrative of Concrete Desert. I love the way the track evokes a time and place, as I tried to do with our album.
Neil Young - Dead Man Theme
Kevin Martin: Young's mastery of mood, tone and texture is outstanding on this soundtrack. And in terms of sparseness and contrasting textures, I felt there were parallels in what I hoped we could achieve. While we were in the studio, I discovered Dylan is equally smitten by the idea of scoring movies, which I hope someday we could do together.
Godflesh - Avalanche Master Song
Kevin Martin: The epitome of monolithic dread, and the emphasis on slow, monstrous grooves, def magnetized me to Godflesh. And as far as I’m concerned Justin Broadrick is one of the very few vocalists in metal, who can articulate the horror of existential angst, without sounding like bad comedy or theatre. I invited him to guest on two of our album's rhythms, cause I knew he grew up in the inner city shithole that was Birmingham, and i wanted him to be the voice of our concrete desert.
Alice Coltrane feat Pharoah Sanders - Journey In Satchidananda
Kevin Martin: I would probably pick this as my favourite all time jazz track, if someone put a gun to my head. The effortless, hypnotic swing of the double bass riff, and the tantalising harp played by Alice Coltrane is ambient, textural and deeply spiritual in mood. I guess I wanted to try and locate a deviant jazz swing for some of the tunes on Concrete Desert. A smacked out, fuzzed up journey into LA noir. And with this track, I would only wish the groove would remain eternal, as i get lost in its atmosphere and syncopation.
Scientist - Dangerous Match One
Kevin Martin: When I heard from a mutual friend, that Dylan dug King Midas Sound, I figured he must be a dub fiend. And when we worked together in LA, we chatted a lot about the power of dub. And its that dub methodology, and its phenomenal use of space, that I explored on the album. And likewise, how the tracks morphed from the earliest demo sketches to the final mix upon mix. Concrete Desert is dub to the core.