The Devil's in the Details on Selina Martin's 'Time Spent Swimming'

The Devil's in the Details on Selina Martin's 'Time Spent Swimming'
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Prior to the last few years when the pandemic stretched — and at times broke —  the interconnecting tissue between human relationships, Selina Martin made the move from Toronto to France in order to"explore loneliness as one of the cornerstones of the human condition." With the added (and at times overwhelming) solitude that COVID provided, she certainly got her money's worth out of the move.

The musical community that Martin fostered in her home country — including Bob Wiseman, Ford Pier, and Martin Tielli, to name a few — has always been wonderfully left-of-centre, and in the past has given context to the varied nature of Martin's musical career. However, Martin's writing and performative character remain singular, coherent elements in her art, drawing on her skills as a stage actor and storyteller. Her previous albums have often felt like collections of vivid vignettes rendered in each record's particular prevailing mode, be that indie folk, art rock or, as on Time Spent Swimming, experiments in electronic music.

Time Spent Swimming is her first release since the expansively titled 2016 effort i've been picking caruso's brain; i think i have the information we need to make a new world, and the record's musical style picks up where that album left off while also managing to shoot into the stratosphere high above it. Produced methodically over a period of two years by Martin herself, working remotely with Alex Gamble in Toronto, the album was eventually mixed and mastered using Dolby Atmos 3D soundstage technology, making each and every detail of those two years distinct in the final results. The placement of instruments, voice, and beats creates a halo effect for the listener to inhabit as much as hear.

The record opens with something of a red herring — with upbeat drum programming and single-ready vibes, "Tangier" and "Two Storeys/The Ground," prepare one for a collection of electro-pop bangers. But even atop the bounce of that one-two punch, Martin's words convey the weariness and wariness of searching for connection. The album slows and opens up to the skies and waters on "If You Were a River" and "Something Wide Awake," allowing vibraphone echoes and vocal layers create resonant spaces that are mildly and nostalgically reminiscent of peak Jane Siberry.

The pandemic blues are addressed, first directly in the spiky solo dance of "Quarantine" and then again on the atmospheric "So Lo," a multi-layered lament scored to a backdrop of field recorded birds and cicada. It's a triptych capped off by "Since You're Gone," a languid shanty that feels pulled from an Irish play about those lost at sea. Lest the album sink along with its loneliness though, the mood is cleared with the punchy paean to Euro excess "Leopard-Skin Vespa."

Albums that indulge in this kind of surgical production and methodical assembly often survive simply on the quality of their surfaces. It's clear that Selina Martin values the time spent figuring out how all the pieces fit together, but both the technological and therapeutic work together on Time Spent Swimming to create something new and organic, suited for withstanding emotional highs and lows. Whether you find loneliness in France or in the glow of your computer screen, there are voices out there waiting to reconnect.  (Independent)