Ronnie Martin’s knack for writing indelible pop songs, as evidenced by nearly two decades’ worth of Joy Electric releases, would be more than enough to cement his musical legacy. But Martin has always been more ambitious — and, let’s be honest, weirder — than that.
He’s never been afraid to wed his synth-pop arrangements to high concepts, composing songs inspired by Nikola Tesla, antediluvian history, and the question of what medieval minstrels might’ve composed had they access to synthesizers. (And that’s to say nothing of his fascination with flowery, fairy tale imagery.)
So if I tell you that Martin’s first album in years consists of synth-pop hits informed by the Bible’s wisdom literature, you really shouldn’t be too surprised. Drawing inspiration from Psalms, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and elsewhere, From the Womb of the Morning, the Dew of Your Youth Will Be Yours is as ambitious and conceptual as anything that Martin’s released to date… and then some.
There’s a level of mastery on display in the album’s seven songs — at 31 minutes, it’s the very model of efficiency — that makes From the Womb… more than a welcome return, though. Rather, it feels like a rediscovery of everything that made me fall in love with Ronnie Martin’s music in the first place, going back to the earliest Joy Electric albums, and even Dance House Children before that.
That mastery certainly manifests itself in the music. Martin coaxes all manner of sounds from his Moog One with ease: twinkling tones open “Sing Among the Branches” like a Hans Christian Andersen dream sequence, wintry atmospherics drift around “Snow Like Wool” like new-fallen flakes, and the dreamy chimes on “Then Shall Your Light Break Forth Like the Dawn” end the album on a triumphant note. As an added bonus, Martin even throws in hints of synthwave (the title track) and neo-italo disco (“For What Vanity” could easily pass for a Sally Shapiro song) without ever losing that distinctive Ronnie Martin-ness.
And yes, that’s an honest-to-goodness drum machine providing the beats. Martin dropped his long-standing synthesizer-only policy for From the Womb…, and the newly returned drum machine adds some welcome punch.
But the album’s lyrics are where things get particularly interesting. Keying off unique Biblical phrases, Martin uses them as a jumping off point for his own poetry. “Snow Like Wool” comes from Psalm 147, which draws parallels between God’s care for the natural world and His care for His people. Martin takes that and weaves it into a winter-themed song about maintaining hope in the midst of a frozen, Narnia-esque world. “The Daughters of Song Are Brought Low” takes its title from Ecclesiastes 12, and laments a world in which “the frivolous romp in evening gowns” — the sort of empty vanity that the Preacher warns us about.
It’s tempting to suss out all of the “obvious” one-to-one connections between Martin’s lyrics and various Bible verses, but such prooftexting would be a mistake — if only because it overlooks Martin’s own poetry. “Then Shall Your Light Break Forth Like the Dawn” comes from Isaiah 58, which contains some of the Bible’s most powerful language concerning God’s requirements for sacrifice and justice. But Martin’s lyrics skip past all that — is there a Biblical analog for lines like “A porcelain stag crafted by giants”? — to focus on the titular phrase’s triumphant nature and end From the Womb… with the reassuring promise that “all will not be lost.”
Martin’s incorporation of Biblical language does result in some awkward lyrical phrasings. But if anyone can get away with singing lines like “And ever will our hearts be full/If white may fall the snow like wool” or “I am the forebearer of the wintertide/You unearth troves of antediluvian kind,” it’s Ronnie Martin. Indeed, the lyrical phrasings ultimately add to the album’s already considerable charm.
I’ve always respected Ronnie Martin’s dedication to his singular aesthetic. His music possesses a purity that’s certainly unique and charming, but also deeply affecting and emotional. (I think Velvet Blue Music’s on to something when they describe these songs as “mixtape classics from a better, kinder world.”) With its abstract Biblical imagery and immaculate Moog arrangements, From the Womb of the Morning, the Dew of Your Youth Will Be Yours is one of the finest examples of this dedication and musical purity — and one of the best collections of songs that Ronnie Martin has ever released, period.