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King Midas Sound
Solitude Adam Quarshie , February 19th, 2019 09:08

Kevin Martin and Roger Robinson team up for the heaviest King Midas Sound yet, a bleak telling of a love gone wrong

Getting on the tube at rush hour a couple of days ago I'm reminded of the constant stress of the capital. These amped-up cortisol levels, exasperation and angst of London are all energies that have informed much of the work of Kevin Martin, in his guises as both The Bug and King Midas Sound.

But though he might be best known for channeling those feelings into his antagonistic productions across the dub/dancehall spectrum, he's often unfairly pigeonholed in that role, which does a disservice to the range of his vision and the breadth of his influences. His work with Roger Robinson as King Midas Sound has always been a space for exploring more intimate, introspective head states. Solitude, the latest release by the pair, takes this introspection to oceanic depths. It's perhaps the most melancholic offering of any of Martin's projects - sparse, sombre and at points, overwhelming in its bleakness. Set against haunting, nightmarish drones, Robinson - whose voice sounds like it was created for no other purpose than poetry - tells wounded tales of loss and regret, illuminating the shattered emotional landscape of a man reeling from a perished, destructive relationship.

Robinson's lyrics are intensely personal - full of bitterness, sorrow and alienation. The smoky warmth of earlier King Midas Sound work is replaced here by much bleaker textures, also reflected in the monochromatic album art by photographer Daisuke Yokota. It's a record made almost entirely without beats, and the artwork seems to hone in on the hollowed out spaces (emotional and musical) that are left when these are removed.

The LP is epic in its scope, though lyrically it's built from the most mundane details of a shared life - sweat-soaked bedsheets and resentful memories - that's fallen to pieces. The combination of harrowing lyrics and cold, shadowy soundscapes is at its most powerful on tracks like 'Zero', which sounds like a hallucinatory diary entry, a reflection of a mind teetering on the edge. It features lines such as: "we became feral / we lost weight / we turned pale / we fucked like wild animals".

It's rich and hypnotic, but it's not an easy listen: the gloom of many of the tracks will feel oppressive to some. The claustrophobic track 'Alone', for instance, is full of the ruminations of a man consumed by his own solitude. 'Who', meanwhile, sounds like a twisted version of Leadbelly's 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night', a menacing tale of male jealousy and possessiveness. 'The Lonely' is equally tortured, containing lines including: "When you get to this age with no significant other / people treat you like a bad rash". There's even a re-imagining of the poem 'Bluebird' by Charles Bukowski, another voice not known for his interest in the sunnier side of the human psyche. All of this is told from a male perspective, for the female vocalists that guest on most Bug/King Midas productions are absent - most notably, regular King Midas contributor Kiki Hitomi. The counterpoint that her vocal range normally provides to Robinson's is missing, meaning the album has a much darker feel to it.

But Kevin Martin as a producer has always been drawn to deeper, darker frequencies and aspects of human experience. While this is may be the most challenging King Midas Sound record, it's also the most cinematic. As much as it evokes cramped, inner-city paranoia, wilder landscapes also come to mind when listening. On 'In The Night', for example, Robinson intones: "I took a train to Scotland / and camped on the shore of Loch Lomond / And at dawn I walked barefoot into the lake".

It's an arresting image: broken souls wandering through the wilderness in search of redemption. This complex visual world is also created even without any lyrics. Tracks like the brooding, beautiful 'Lies' display the emotional territories Martin can navigate using only the most minimal of materials. The entire album feels like an exploration of the grey areas where the rawest of human emotions can be found lurking.