Justin Martin’s ‘Hello Clouds’ surpasses the austerity of the sophomore slump [Review]
All too commonly is the phrase ‘sophomore slump’ used throughout the music industry. There’s quite a bit of weight put on the second album. It’s a chance for an artist to prove that the success and sound of their seminal release wasn’t a fluke – that it’s instead part of a unique and defining vision that will be curated for years to come. This nagging reminder of what a sophomore album represents can cast a looming pressure over musicians, often resulting in an expansive length of time before their subsequent album is released.
Justin Martin‘s debut album, Ghettos & Gardens, was released in 2012. While it did see success, most notably it acted as confirmation that the defining sound heard in his breakthrough song, “The Sad Piano,” could translate across the entirety of a full length album. Now, years after the song that mobilized Martin’s career, the Dirtybird co-founder can add a second album to his padded discography. And that proverbial sophomore slump that so many caution against? Hello Clouds is in the clear.
Replete with delicate, often female, vocal samples and the groovier, underlying chords that have become archetypal of releases on Dirtybird, Hello Clouds is in a way a subtle message about second albums. When a musician can effectively be felt smiling throughout his songs, it transcends any external pressure. Commenting on the album’s breadth of emotions and range of sound, Martin went on to say, “I wanted Hello Clouds to tell a story from the first track to the last, rather than just be a collection of dance floor tunes. I put a lot of time, energy, and emotion into this album over the past 3 years, I’m so happy it’s finally out!”
And a story it tells, indeed. Judiciously titled “Dive In” opens the album, its gossamer tone and instrumental nature setting the stage for what’s to follow. Title track “Hello Clouds,” in addition to “Odyssey” and “Rabbit Hole” act as prime showcases of Justin Martin’s love for ethereal, female vocalists, constructed in a manner similar to that of the beloved “Don’t Go.” In contrast, “The Feels” puts his immensely spirited and multifarious progression on display — a track that is certain to become a staple of raucous Dirtybird parties in the following months.
Midway through the album is “Upcountry.” An upbeat yet menacing song, that if mixed the right way wouldn’t be entirely out of place amidst a dark, warehouse set. Then there’s the delicate, more ambient nature of “Be Mine” and “Hold Them,” two songs that tug at the emotions while still maintaining a rousing beat. Fellow Dirtybird cohorts make an appearance on the album as well in the form of Will Clarke on the percussion-heavy “Back to the Jungle,” Kill Frenzy and Ardalan on “Wet Cat (Sooo Wet),” and brother, Christian Martin, on piano-laden “Midnight.” To round out the composition and provide further texture are short filler tracks, “Tropical Storm Mango” and “U R Here,” which hammer in the album’s floating, airy motif.
In Hello Clouds, Justin Martin lifts the austerity that hovers over sophomore albums, opting to instead inject his insouciant approach to music in its newly vacant space. Blending basslines heavy enough to sell out clubs with melodies airy enough for private enjoyment, it’s easy to see that he truly has fun with his music. Funky and certainly eclectic, but tightly produced, the album ingeniously captures the lighthearted nature that has come to represent Martin both on and off the decks.