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Bug vs. Earth: Concrete Desert (Ninja Tune)

Martin, also known as The Bug in addition to being a generally
prolific and diverse musician in a variety of projects
(Techno-Animal, God, Ice, King Midas Sound, and many more), teamed up
with Dylan Carson of Seattle psych-rock experimenters Earth for this
sprawling, arid album. Martin’s aesthetic is typically rooted in
massive low-end, the kind that rattles your speakers and sets off car
alarms. His last full-length, Angels & Devils, tempered his
harder edges through a series of collaborations with as many female
vocalists as male vocalists for a change, with results that ranged
from his signature pummeling (working with regular MC collaborator
Flowdan) to sublime (its opening cut with Liz Harris a.k.a. Grouper).
It’s been three years since that release, and Concrete Desert is a
healthy lateral move that at once feels progressive for Martin as
well as offering an exciting spin on each contributor’s talents.
The most immediate observation about Concrete Desert is how much
Carson’s patience and willingness to prolong a sense of space and
decay tones down Martin’s tougher instincts. “Gasoline,” for
instance, has some of The Bug’s signature cadence in its programming,
but it patiently drones for at least half of the track before those
underpinnings really reveal themselves. It’s only on the third track,
“Agoraphobia,” that the familiar low-end lurch of the Bug shines
through darkly. With Carson representing Earth on his own, it’s the
right balance of acoustic performance alongside electronics. His
guitar ranges from droning and taut (“City of Fallen Angels”) to
more pronounced and trudging (“Snakes Vs Rats”) while Martin’s
arrangements veer more into the sublime side he teased with Angels &
than the outright assault of 2008’s London Zoo. Yet it’s the
latter’s exploration of London’s underbelly that inspired Concrete
’s often bleak take on Los Angeles. That Martin’s
collaboration is around expansive post-rock instead of rapid-fire
MCs only enhances his take on LA as a wasteland of extremes,
evidenced by “American Dream,” over ten minutes of bleak drones
and field recordings that no doubt reflect Martin’s observations of
homeless communities of the city, as quoted in this Bandcamp write-up: “This
is meant to be the ‘American Dream,’ yet it seemed massively
segregated to me—racially, culturally, economically. It just didn’t
hold true, you know?” It’s on those drearier cuts
that Concrete Desert seems most fully realized as a vision for both
Martin and Carson. However, there are cuts where Martin’s sensibility
comes through more clearly, like the steady groove of “Don’t Walk
These Streets” or the strangely mono sounding “Hell A.”

Concrete Desert by The Bug vs Earth

Martin said he wanted to feel like he was back in LA when he hears
this music, no doubt the title track hits it on the head, nearly
fifteen minutes of patient guitar drones, overtones, and harmonics
that feel like the sustained decay of Howard Shore’s guitar-laden
Crash score from the late 90s. The special edition vinyl and digital
versions of Concrete Desert include three additional tracks. Two are
alternate takes on “Snakes Vs. Rats” and “Broke,” “Dog”
and “Pray” respectively, that feature JK Flesh (Godflesh’s
Justin Broadrick, a regular collaborator with Martin) on vocals. To
me, these are cast-offs that just sound out of place; the music
succeeds far better in the context of the proper album without his
aggressive bellowing. But the third cut is well worth attention, an
even dronier epilogue to the title cut. “Another Planet” no doubt
refers to Martin’s feeling of being in another world during his
visits to Los Angeles, and its gloomy drones reflect that outsider
instinct and his disappointment in the city of dreams. The album is a
prime example of inspired collaboration, wherein the talents of its
contributors complement each other to the fullest extent. The result
is rather morose but impressive, feeling like an instinctive
emotional response to both its theme and each other’s musical

Buy it: Bandcamp