Justin Martin Weds Beauty To Beats : All Songs Considered The concept behind the electronic musician's new album, Ghettos and Gardens, is simple: over and over again, he mixes graceful sounds with grimy, percussive noise.
NPR logo Justin Martin Weds Beauty To Beats

Justin Martin Weds Beauty To Beats

Courtesy of the artist
Justin Martin
Courtesy of the artist

The concept behind Ghettos and Gardens is simple: pretty strings over gritty basslines; dainty vocals atop punchy percussion; beautiful and foul servings of 4/4 beats. Justin Martin puts it this way:

"When creating music I usually set out to sweep the listener away with beautiful melodies only to lead them to earthshattering bass lines."

It's something he's done time and time again with singles released on the Dirtybird label, a San Francisco-based beacon of oddball house music, and it's what he does on "Don't Go," the first single off of his new debut album.

Courtesy of the artist
Justin Martin
Courtesy of the artist

Listen: Justin Martin, 'Don't Go'

Don't Go

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/152910709/152998381" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • from Ghettos & Gardens
  • by Justin Martin

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First, we hear a female voice sing the song's title over a skipping pattern of high hats and a looped string melody. So far, so lovely. Then the sounds swell (a distant echo creeps its way into the mix) and give way to a brief, suspenseful moment of silence, which is swiftly shattered by the attack of a drum kick paired with an electronic clap.

Martin works this mix of power and grace in a number of ways on the album. On the title track, the vocals are even daintier: delicate whisps of sound that evaporate into bass lines which, when heard on the right system, could conceivably do bodily harm. On "Butterflies," Martin sets cascading runs of keys fluttering around a barking synthesizer, and then peppers this dance with stabbing chords and metallic spasms.

Across Ghettos and Gardens, Justin Martin has managed to come up with a number of ways to communicate the same idea, but he does it well enough that the idea never gets old. It's a simple concept, handled with an impressive level of complexity.