Once upon a time, there were two brothers named Ronnie and Jason who formed a band called Dance House Children, a band considered by many to be one of the first — if not the first — dance/techno bands in Christendom. They released a couple of albums on the seminal Blonde Vinyl label before parting ways. Ronnie went on to form Joy Electric, distilling the electronic sounds of Dance House Children into their purest, most analog form. Jason, on the other hand, began Starflyer 59 and dropped the electronica altogether, opting instead for a sound more indebted to the English shoegazer scene.
I am, of course, speaking of the Brothers Martin. For years, fans of the two brothers have been clamoring for a collaboration, regardless of whether they were aware of Dance House Children or not. And while there have been a few pairings, such as the remix of “Blue Collar Love” that Ronnie did for Starflyer 59’s She’s The Queen EP, a true collaboration has been more wishful thinking than anything else.
Until now, that is, due to the release of The Brothers Martin’s self-titled debut. And all told, if you’re at all familiar with the brothers’ individual groups, this collaboration will sound exactly like, well, a collaboration of the brothers’ individual groups. If you’re expecting a return to the halcyon days of Songs & Stories, Jesus, and Rainbow Rider, you’ll likely be disappointed. No, The Brothers Martin is most certainly equal parts Starflyer 59 and equal parts Joy Electric, not just a trip down nostalgia lane.
Indeed, it’s rather easy to draw a demarcation through the middle of the disc’s songs and instantly divide which sounds, melodies, and instruments came from which brother. Which is actually a bit disappointing. The album has a bit of a tossed off feel from time to time, as it sounds almost painfully obvious that Jason just slapped a couple of his trademark riffs onto some of Ronnie’s beats, or that Ronnie just piled on some of his trademark analog synths on top of some of Jason’s chords.
Considering the number of bands out there who are doing such a good job of seamlessly blending “traditional” rock instruments and synth-pop/electronic elements together (Postal Service, The Notwist, Fridge), and that the Martins have been at this gig longer than many of those other bands combined, one can’t help but wish for something a little more, well, truly collaborative.
But then along come such absolutely perfect pop songs as “Deaf Will Hear,” “Fears to Remember,” “Get the Money,” and “Life on Strings,” and you suddenly find yourself caring a little bit less. “Fears to Remember” was one of the first Brothers Martin tracks I heard, and it still remains my favorite — a beautiful slice of synth-pop that sounds both delightfully retro and wondrously futuristic, like something Lansing-Dreiden might compose if they dropped their obtuse artsy-fartsy shtick and wore their hearts on their sleeves a bit more openly.
While I’m more inclined to those songs on the album where Ronnie took the lead, I make an exception for “Get the Money.” Here, the sort of angular, vaguely surf-inspired riffs and propulsive drumming that you normally get from Starflyer 59 are in the spotlight; meanwhile, Ronnie’s bank of synthesizers sigh away in the background, giving the song a poignant, elegiac air that is reminiscent of nothing less than Disintegration.
Moments like these remind me of why I have been a fan of the Brothers Martin, both separately and collectively, for almost fifteen years(?!?) now.