Seattle shoegaze band Red Martian has been very active over their somewhat short existence, and they have a full bandcamp page to show for it. The band’s shoegaze sound takes cues from bands like My Bloody Valentine, and on one of their releases, Slow Motion Samurai, the band has varying degrees of success in creating their own brand of fuzzed-out melancholia. Heavy guitar riffs fill the mix alongside steady drums, roaring bass, bleak vocals, and harmonies that add a sense of somber angst. While the lyrics can be emotional themselves, the band’s main draw comes from instilling feelings with huge walls of distorted guitars.
The lyrics and vocals often capture feelings of sadness and apathy , while the music instills a sense of underlying rage. The the rhythm and tempo generally stays slow yet steadfast, which lets the music stand on its own with a mix of bright and dark guitar tones. The guitars more than often use distortion and reverb to create ambiance, but occasionally jump into choppy riffs or slick solos. The title track is a good representation of their sound overall, being a sublimely mystical with hazy guitars and cryptic lyrics, “out of time, slow motion line / through walls of stone, cut flesh to bone.” The second track, “秘密の旋律,” contrasts thin, airy moments with bold riffs, while “Away” showcases some guitar shredding chops. The latter also contains some of their most jarring lyrics, starting off softly humming “so you’re our rock star now, riding safe in mommies car / she takes you to your show where you sell pre-sale tickets tonight,” and ending with a chilling last line, “I’m watching you die now.” Other notable tracks are the unconventionally acoustic “Donkey Back Ride,” the speedy “The Empty Sound.”
Red Martian’s shoegaze sound also melts over into punk, notably deeper into the record. “めがね” and “Air” are raging tracks with blazing guitar riffs and monotone vocals, which brings to mind the meditative, guitar-driven grunge found on Title Fight‘s Hyperview. Red Martian’s songs pound with hard-hitting drums and rumbling bass, while the guitar and its effects are front and center in driving the textured force. On “Air,” an acoustic guitar notably meshes with their amped-up sound, which also uses some odd echoing effects that smoothly leads the track into eerie ambiance. The song transitions into a gleaming, bendy riff that leads the wall of sound into its ending abyss. However, like a number of shoegaze bands, Red Martian seems to fall somewhat short when it comes to the pensive vocal element.
The desperately melancholy inflection and drawn-out melodies can work well, and do on some songs, but ultimately don’t lend much in the way of accessibility or heavy repeated listening. These tunes will work when you are in the mood for a zoning out to a huge wall of noise and draining guitars, but it might feel stale when you’re looking for something more attentive or lively. As the name suggests, Slow Motion Samurai is made up of tunes, and a handful of epic moments, that were crafted to accompany solemn moments and deep thoughts. There’s also a sense of nobility and need to move forward, especially on the final track, “Greying.”
The track opens up in a soft, straightforward manner, but eventually odd, spinning riffs take over. The grungy, glistening guitars comes back in later on, and the lyrics contemplate big ideas, “don’t despair, you’ll reach your destination soon / don’t beware, there’s nothing that you can do / but you’ll move on, those dreams you own / and it’s not wrong, some may say its just begun.” The riffs churn and bend, which adds some much-needed grit to instrumental section. Eventually, the song transitions into an odd clash up of spacey effects and high-pitched vocals, the band dismisses, “you can’t fight it, can’t you see,” and the song proceeds into its sonically huge finale.
Overall, Red Martian creates music that is more about the experience than anything else. A lot of the lyrics are hard to make out unless reading along, which keeps your focus on the blaring guitars and overall melancholy yet resilient tone of the whole band. Changing it up with Japanese lyrics and bringing in their grunge and punk influences helps Red Martian’s songs stand out amongst the recent influx of shoegaze bands, but their sound could overall be more polished and fine-tuned in the vocal and production realms. While their sound isn’t perfected yet, they are making unique strides with their shoegaze sound by creating captivating riffs that use odd tones and effects. Their distinct punk-tinge and experimental nature already bleeds through their songwriting, but with more definitive vocals and some crisper production, Red Martian could bring their vision into full light.
Stream/download Slow Motion Samurai on bandcamp.