Martin Rev: Les Nymphes (Bureau B) (Reissue)

Legendary Suicide keyboardist / programmer turns 90s techno inside-out to trippy, intriguing effect on idea-packed, sprawling reissue

Released Nov 28th, 2022 via Bureau B / By Ben Wood
Martin Rev: Les Nymphes (Bureau B) (Reissue) Like fellow romantic New York nihilists the Velvet Underground, the minimal, confrontational, unclassifiable proto-punk duo Suicide were so far ahead of their time that they were largely ignored or hated during their heyday.

But what do the public know? They like Ed Sheeran. Fuck 'em. Like a true artist, synth wizard Martin Reverby, aka Martin Rev, kept on following his muse while Suicide gradually assumed legendary pioneer status. Age did not wither him: in its own way, 2008's Les Nymphes is as defiantly out of time as Suicide was in the early 70s.

Many of the ingredients (beats, synth pads, acidic squiggles) are instantly recognisable from early 90s house / techno records. But we're not in Kansas anymore and this ain't no retro retread. As well as a soupcon of disconcertingly heavy guitar, there is a denseness, wooziness and weirdness that keeps pulling the music into new directions. And at an average of three tracks an LP side, the ideas are given plenty of time to develop.

The self-confessed jazz fan may be doing to old-skool chew-yer-face-off choons what the beboppers did to old ballads...paying tribute while using them as a jumping off point and deconstructing them into oblivion. The more straightforward tracks are like a more interesting, layered, psychedelic take on that moment in time when electronic dance music was splintering into harder, ravier styles and trippier, more challenging, ambient and interesting stuff. Rev plays all sides of the equation with a real 'throw the kitchen sink' attitude. Yet there's a gift for melody here that makes everything eminently listenable.

We get off to a strong start with the relentless but uplifting Sophie Eagle (this album has some great, classy track titles). Its springy guitar groove, plasticky piano and whispered vocal fragments joyously collide with banging kick drums. It's hypnotic stuff. Narcisse combines spooky keys and alternately filmic and uptempo sections with a filtered undewater feel. Spaced out and trancey.

Triton is a different beast, bringing the testosterone as a heavy metallic guitar riff teams up with a harder beat and a darker feel. However, this is joined by deeper, funkier, spongier elements... slowed-down gabba anyone?! Venice is a frisky midtempo groove with anthemic if sluggish synth stabs and a distorted vocal sample conjuring up that classic dystopian 90s cyborg rave vibe.

Valley of the Butterfly sees things get really weird. It's less of a tune, more of a fucked-up interlude. Spooky synthy intro, taunting sped-up voice... we have landed in a freaked-out fantasy-land reminiscent of the intro to Funkadelic's Maggot Brain or those spoken-word bits on classic 80s Prince albums where he talks to God. The drugs have definitely kicked in now...

Les Nymphes Et La Mer has heavy, layered guitar, like postmodern Hawkwind, before other sounds attack it, threatening to collapse the tune's structure. It's zonked out, alright, but weirdly accessible. Dragonfly eases up on the weirdness, giving our brains a break as it shape-shifts into mellow, accessible techno. A nice groove with lots of wiggle room which embodies the secret of good electronic music (or dub, for that matter). There's enough variation to keep it interesting but enough of a groove to make it hypnotic.

Phaeton sounds like four slight different tracks playing at once, way too psychedelic to be straight-up techno. It keeps on bursting apart, mutating, slowing down... Like much on here, it's too weird for dance, too banging for ambient, too ravey for old-skool psych.

The album now starts to clear its head and return to Earth. Nyx could be an Aphex Twin title, although its jazz-funk vibe makes it the most conventional tune so far... though that's not saying much! Daphne is one of the album's less memorable moments, basically a loop buggered around with in a hundred different ways - although you could kinda describe most dance tunes like that if you were feeling mean, non? Cupid sees classic piano house riffs distorted almost beyond recognition. Deep Temple is a deep groove reminiscent of old-skool, original German trance (not that awful stuff that infected the charts towards the end of the 90s). Simple but effective.

By the time the album closes with To Vow, we have been on quite a trip. Over the course of an hour or so, Rev has reminded us that dance music is supposed to be psychedelic, transporting, consciousness-altering....and fun, dammit. This is one odd little puppy that shows up most electronic artists for their lack of imagination. Great fun. 4/5