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My Grandfather, the Cubist
Artist: Joy Electric
Label: Tooth and Nail Records
Length: 12 tracks/ 45 minutes 

Ronnie Martin has been pressing forward to refine his synthesizer-only sound since beginning his Legacy series of albums at the start of the decade. The five albums that resulted were a mixture of raw ideas, experimental left-turns, and obtuse concepts held together consistently with good songwriting, which has been the solid rock of all of the Joy Electric albums.  Each Legacy album had a slightly different appeal, but they were all in some ways a continued refinement to achieve a particular electronic sound.  All the while his songwriting went through the gauntlet as well, being honed to achieve a perfect formula that would be just the songwriter's own.   

My Grandfather, the Cubist contains an amalgamation of the aspects that defined each Legacy album.  But it's also immediately reminiscent of classic Joy Electric albums.  It will delight on the first listen because of this, but this form of nostalgia for his old sound quickly fades on repeated listens, and well it should.  For this period you may even hate the album for not producing the same feelings that Melody brought. But then Cubist becomes something completely different. This is not to be enjoyed as only a throwback to the old style, but a successful reintroduction of Joy Electric as something far more refined, satisfying, and enduring. 

Like Melody, Cubist may sound happy at surface-level.  Unlike Melody, an album that could be consistently enjoyed at that point without having to dig any deeper though it was more rewarding for those that did Cubist does not settle itself on the surface, on the playful sounds of the synths alone. It sinks deeper, almost on its own, on later listens.  Lead melodies that carry the playful essence running through particular songs prove to be just quick brushstrokes amongst a much larger, much moodier canvas.  Consider where the most Melody-similar melodies lie in the "biographical" songs, the ones about key figures in art and history who faced being misunderstood or oppressed.   

The pacing of Cubist is also key to the particular depth it settles at.  Cubist's songs flow all at the same walking pace, meaning what excitement is delivered at first by surprises like "Four Gone Pierre", featuring a gripping lead hook and electronic wash found in past songs such as "The North Sea", are diminished until the rest of the album falls into place on later listens.  Instead of any thrills or somber tones brought on by changes in tempo, Cubist reveals an intricacy in its smaller spaces and shapes that makes every synthesizer note feel integral, and which proves strong enough to hold the emotional weight of the lyrics and the rough and true vocals whole and intact. 

The concept wells up a sense of nostalgia on its own, apart from what may be felt from Cubist's similarities to Melody.  The effects of figures from the past that are felt today yet forgotten from whom they originated the nameless Grandfather of the title-track, a song that captures the same mood as the "M.C. Escher"'s or "Copernicus"'s (or "Nikola Tesla"'s) that Joy Electric has fixated over for the past few albums but here exemplified in the most perfect five minutes of the album.  Pedestalled by the two wonderful instrumentals surrounding it at the very end of the album, it's one of the best suites of music Ronnie Martin has crafted yet.  

There is only the difficulty that some will have getting used to the vocal approach and the even pace of the album that deflects this from being the Joy Electric album for everyone.  But it doesn't detract from the album's sheer excellence nonetheless.  A style that brings out the best of the Legacy series, tunes that feature a satisfying new formula, a batch of lengthy songs with old and new themes that play well with each other, and a final trio of tracks that could be the most classic, progressed, superb piece of music Ronnie Martin's yet created: My Grandfather, the Cubist is the first Joy Electric album I'd call a contender for pop album of the year and my favorite work he's made yet.  Let the album carry you where it goes, and I think the fans and newcomers alike will feel very much the same.
Jonathan Avants 6/8/08

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