"The world changes materially. Science makes advances in technology and understanding. But the world of humanity doesn't change." – Pierre Schaeffer
Music is a force, perhaps even a reflection of life that no doubt you, the discerning music listener, hold closely to the core. The artistic merit of music can be debated for eternity, but the basis of all art is creation, thus that injection cannot be argued. There is no doubt that the music of Joy Electric (the nom de compositeur of Mr. Ronnie Martin) is artistic from the squelches, blips, beeps and undeniable melodies bursting from the analog synthesizer to his meta-sing-along choruses and indelible hooks. For nearly twenty years, Ronnie Martin has been creating songs out the mathematics of science and the vibrations of art. My Grandfather, The Cubist is the tenth Joy Electric full-length, a record he describes as his most "well-rounded" and "organic".
Rather than building a record around a singular concept (as he has done for the last five records), Martin sought a loftier goal: "I wanted to delve into the aspect of purposefully trying to make something artistically uncompromising." The process began with composing the basic tracks entirely on the piano, allowing the analog synthesizer and the sequencer to take the songs where they would "land" and ended with recording his vocals without manipulation. ("This is actually the first time anyone's heard my real voice [on recording].") The result is a more "organic" vibe: the record isn't chock full of requisite rock-out songs and cluttering (and admitted distracting) sounds. It is a mellower Joy Electric, but it makes it warmer, less weird (yet-still-weird), thus, more complete and compelling.
Free from the self-imposed constraints of a single concept, he was able to create an entirely new record that hearkened back to his early work without mimicry. "Draw For Me, M.C. Escher", a tune with a bouncy melody and limited whirs-and-whizzes, could fit perfectly on his debut, Melody. "Four Gone Pierre (Or What Electrictiy Made)" is the most up-tempo track, but it's far from the sugar-amped-pep of, say, "A New Pirate Traditional". The song captures a bit of what the French neu-dance-revivalists such as Justice and M83, appropriate in their heavy-handed nostalgia. (Joy Electric's nostalgia is less about style than about the timelessness of analog process and songcraft).
The opening track, "Victorian Intuition/Father Winter Replies", exemplifies the laser-like focus and organic Martin implements. The beats are perfectly balanced to the tight melody, countermelodies simmer above/below to create a lovely compliment, and the vocals hint at weariness and resignation. "The First Time I Loved Her It Was Here" is the direction Portishead could have taken on their new record. It also is the absolute best example of Martin's emphasis on artistic accomplishment, focused restraint, and songwriting prowess. The beats clank and clunk, the melody is sparse and simple, the embellishments exist in concert with the melodic base. The record culminates with, what I call the Cubist Suite; three tracks ("Prelude to Cubism", the title track, and "Cubist Interlude") that perfectly balance pop experimentation with the long tradition of pop songwriting. There is a mutual dependency of each track on the suite as a whole, and it's the perfect way to close this album.
He can be accused of being too literal in his quest for the perfect pop album, while entrenching himself in the sub-genre of synth pop and his analog-only constraint, making it impossible to craft anything other than the blip-beep cutesy pop. Admittedly, there is only so much he can do with these constraints, but the genius is found in the ever-so slight deviations that manifest themselves in the cavalcade of vocals (The Otherly Opus), stark minimalism (The Ministry of Archers), clever minor key freak-beats (Hello, Mannequin), and minstrel-robotics (The Tick Tock Treasury). Martin's deviation here is the subtlest, because in many ways he only knows it because it's centered on creation. He states, "It's not that songwriting has necessarily progressed, as much as the details around [the songwriting] have. I actually have the same intent and purpose, but now it's [I feel it is] fully realized." Agreed, this is Joy Electric's most complete top-to-bottom, start-to-finish record since 1997's Robot Rock.