On Barnyard

Nate Dorward, Paris Transatlantic, December 12, 2008

Martin seems to like duets, though the examples of the format on the label are about as different from each other as you could imagine. Little Man on the Boat, his collaboration with saxophonist/guitarist Colin Fisher, is a homemade brew of warped pop, rock, free jazz and ambient textures. The production is elaborate but small-scale, constructing a serenely artificial world out of layered instruments, loops, overdubs, and soft chorales of horns and voices; even a rock guitar solo here is oddly scaled-down, suggesting the comfortably self-enclosed pleasures of a child’s toy. The disc is often best when the materials are reduced to a bare minimum: the title track, for instance, is a gentle whirl of acoustic guitar and consoling horns; A Long Way from Beacon Hill blends hushed ambience, weightless keyboards, trumpet, and a guitar loop that splits apart like light across rippling water. “Cat Song” is especially barebones: hearttugging guitar chords issue at the slowest of drips while Martin’s brushes skim the surface of his cymbals; halfway through, a third element intrudes, hesitant whinnies from what sounds like a sax with a child’s kazoo stuck in its bell. Even the busier tracks avoid clutter: Koyaya, for instance, shows Martin’s deft producer’s touch, as he nibbles away at Fisher’s rubbery jazz-rock guitar solo with typewriter percussion, chilly organ chords, and pert horn sections that drop in erratically for just a note or two. As with a lot of Barnyard releases, it takes a few listens for the disc’s surface playfulness to wear off and the underlying seriousness and musical substance to come through.

The production is elaborate, constructing a serenely artificial world