This ambient album from the Irish producer, best known for drum & bass, reveals his music's strong emotional core.
That this transition feels so natural is no great surprise. If you've followed Martin for any length of time you'll recognise that drum & bass is only a chunk of the story. Last year I wrote about his excellent Break That single, which featured garage, dubstep and deep house, and said how impressive it was that Martin could so effortlessly change lanes. There's been some material roughly in the vein of Planet Hearth—his song-oriented albums under his own name come to mind—but nothing that's been allowed to float so freely in a sea of emotion. Simply removing the beats and tweaking the approach to his bittersweet drum & bass sound could have yielded decent results, but again he attempts to fully reckon with the styles he works with here.
This is particularly evident at the end of the album. Until the final run of four tracks I didn't think Planet Hearth had justified its billing as an ambient record, feeling more like a downtempo collection. But that changes with the spidery guitar and glacial drones of "Waiting For Reasons." "Chasm," which follows, is like huddling next to the hearth of the album's title in the depths of winter, while it's tempting to think that "Down That Road" is a reference to the final road we all must travel down. It rests on a mournful piano performance that occasionally bursts into a higher octave, as if remembering not to lose hope.
It's also worth highlighting "Five Minute Flame," another moving piano piece that Martin apparently wrote in five minutes while his morning coffee was brewing, and "Planet Hearth," which features the almost choral vocal tones Martin frequently uses to create celestial elevation. The piano and vocals combination shines brightest on "Colby Park," where Martin shows that his skills as a musician in electronic music are far above average. For me, some of the beat-driven tracks are less successful. I couldn't help but think of early '00s chillout compilations in the cases of "Hills," "Eratik" and "Walking In Circles." A kind of easy listening, middle-of-the-road quality marks the rhythms and their relationship to the instruments, a feeling compounded by Martin's higher register vocal style.
Better is "Thought Fields," an ambient techno cut that benefits from his soft vocal gestures drifting in the middle distance. That's preceded by "Sheven," another outlier in that it conjures a sense of ravey bliss despite containing no beats. On an album that leans into sadness and reflection, it stands alone. "We all know that we're only here for a moment and everything we create and generate, the connections and love and emotion, there's a possibility it will never be there again," Martin said in that same interview. "We have to take it on that premise." This is the type of sentiment that Planet Hearth seems created upon. It may have some flaws, but it reaches fresh emotional depths for an artist who already goes far deeper than most.