The Lone Gunman
(Idahomusic / Retrophonic)
Having explored his custom four-string guitars' multitude of textures on more or less solo Idaho LPs such as 2000's Hearts of Palm and 2001's Levitate (and cleaned out his closet with the older-band 2002 archive release, We Were Young and Needed the Money), L.A.'s Jeff Martin seemingly disappeared for a while. But in fact he was working all along. Recorded by himself with engineer Bill Sanke "off and on" over 14 months from 2003-2004 and only released now, The Lone Gunman also finds him something of a changed artist on several fronts.
Firstly, having always had a pronounced soundtrack quality to his languorous, dewy soundscapes and vocals, here he advances an advanced, almost Eno-esque esoterica that would lend itself brilliantly to a movie score. Indeed, with the inclusion of several two-minute, instrumental thought pieces, this record is even more of a mellifluous meditation than usual.
Secondly, while he's often used pianos, organs, and synths to embellish his indolent, rumbling, post-shoegaze, guitar sheets, most of Gunman is instead mounted on delicate, gorgeous, neo-classical piano figures with loads of color from a vintage Wurlitzer and Prophet 5. For old fans, there are still bulging gases of guitar blowing through "Echelon" and "The Mystery," a sound that's as singular as customary. But these are exceptions. It's the piano that dominates, and it produces the same Fall, late afternoon, melancholic beauty that it did as far back as 1996 on Three Sheets to the Wind's "Alive Again" and bits of the The Forbidden EP. His lithe touch on the keys, lush chords, and hushed, just-awake, dreamy vocals combine to suggest multi levels of meaning even while the lyrics are so incidental.
Which, by the way, is the third change. His bio hints of a new political awareness on Gunman; of references to oil, our country's over-consumption of natural resources, 9/11, and, as the John F. Kennedy murder title implies, conspiracy theories. But damn if I've ever noticed the words once on dozens of plays even when focusing on them—given Martin's narcoleptic, another-instrument vocalizations, the spare use of singing on the record, and the overpowering effect of his music as the real narrative. He could be mooing of toxic waste dumps, sludge, and overflowing toilets, and it would still sound like remembrances of lost butterflies, carnations, and spring romances of bygone days. Let's just say a title such as "Where the Canyon Meets the Stars" seems to describe this LP far more than, say, the closing (instrumental) "The Days of Petrol."
Lastly (fourthly), some light dance rhythms backing the classic Idaho moodiness on second-half quickies such as "Cactus Man Rides Again" and the vaguely hip-hop "U Got that Gunman Thang" add a new spice to a winning recipe. As does what sounds like brooding strings in the back of "Just Might Run." It's just more depth, variation, and nuance for Martin after 13 years of work.
Now the news is that, after 13 years of such minor-key brilliance, someone outside of his cult fan base has once again recognized his much greater value, and tapped him to score a TV series for the second time, NBC's new, Inconceivable starring Law and Order's Angie Harmon. Can Hollywood be far behind? Like his Northern California neighbors American Music Club and their recent score for a San Francisco showing of 1928's Dark Angel, one can already see a silent movie in the head for The Lone Gunman.
- Jack Rabid
this review is/was printed by The Big Takeover
and is available here for archival use only