Martin Austwick is a man of many talents. Not only is he a supremely talented singer and songwriter, but he’s a physicist and university lecturer, and is also known as “Martin the Sound Man” on the hugely popular comedy podcast Answer Me This!, as well as the Brain Train, Global Lab and The Sound of The Ladies Podcasts. As a musician he has released a pair of albums (We Went to the Bottom of the Ocean and The City of Gold and Lead) and clutch of EPs as The Sound of The Ladies, and an album of science songs as Dr Martin Austwick. 13 September finds Dr Austwick releasing his latest album, the charming and thoroughly informative Through Intermittent Rain, a collection of songs written for gigs and events over the last few years.
Opening with the lovely “The Man Who Could Not Read Minds”, the album’s immediately organic and acoustic sound assures you that this is an uncommonly friendly and inviting album. As you settle into the album, the second track “The Look Upon Your Face” (apparently an atheist hymn written for Robin Ince’s “9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People”), confirms that this is a genuinely good album, as you consider the brilliance of a lyric like ‘There’s no snowflake as unique as the look upon your face’, while you can’t help but appreciate the inclusion of some nice handclap percussion and the gently supple baseline.
Austwick’s science background is betrayed with the lyrics of “City of Dread”, which tells the journey of a neutrino, but his warm voice guides you through a subject matter that some could consider as very dry with utter confidence. If you’re familiar with Austwick’s work as a podcaster, particularly as the detached reverb-laden voice of reason on Answer Me This!, his singing voice can come as something of a surprise as it’s really quite assured and emotive, ably guiding the listener through what can be quite complex themes.
The “Paler Shadow” instrumental works as a great pallet-cleanser for one of my favourite songs on the album. “I Wanna Be A Horse” opens with an infectious bass line and quickly unfolds into one of the most fun songs on the album, with it’s oddly uplifting chorus. The track also really highlights how extremely well produced the album is, especially when you consider the amount of technology available to musicians on all recording budgets these days, tempting them into slathering their recordings with too many layers of sound to the point of obscuring the songs themselves. Through Intermittent Rain finds its creator taking a less is more approach, letting his songwriting, vocals and musicianship shine through. More musicians should show this level of restraint these days, as it allows the raw talent of the artist to shine through – as jokey as a song like “My Superpowers” is, you can’t deny that it sounds great.
If I have a favourite song on Through Intermittent Rain, it has to be “Methuselah”, a song about the oldest tree in the world. It’s simply a gorgeous and oddly moving song and is easily one of my favourites of the year so far. In fact, I could say that for the whole of the album, it’s just one of the best new albums I have heard this year. Maybe the reason that I like it so much is that it doesn’t try too hard to impress you, it just presents itself as a strong set of clever and well considered songs that are so well sequenced and cohesive that you really wouldn’t know that this is a collection of songs written over three years, instead of a suite of songs that were always intended to be released together.
Through Intermittent Rain closes with “Sandkicker”, a second instrumental, which as someone who is not a fan of instrumentals as a rule, I would usually say is one too many, but in this case, it’s utterly appropriate and leaves the album feeling extraordinarily well balanced. Nicely done Dr Austwick.
Martin Austwick releases Through Intermittent Rain on 13 September, and there will be a limited edition CD release following in early October including a kick-ass papercut diorama, available from martinaustwick.bandcamp.com.