Lieven Martens “The Habu”

I’ll take any opportunity to visit the ocean. Lieven Martens work – whether under his own name or previously as Dolphins Into the Future – always takes me there. His newest excursion, The Habu, takes multiple detours along the way but ultimately finds new corners of the ocean to delve into. Martens expands his repertoire with the help of Micaela Madeiros on flute, Ana Isabel Ferreira and Margarida Franco on clarinets, and Miguel Batista on keyboard strings. The Habu is an enchanting voyage.

I’ve come to expect surprises on anything Martens does, but even so the tropical chamber expressions throughout “Suite sentimentale e mini-male” are astounding. In the closing spread of part II, organic Orange Milk vibes creep in, with an acoustic guitar flitting between boastful strums and staccato plucks, the latter of which almost sounds like it’s being done via midi. It’s an incredible passage as it leads into the shimmying push of part III. Enveloped in crystalline tones, twinkling bells act as a coronation, ringing out like sonic gold, sending you off into the deep reaches of the sea. 

There’s a moment near the middle of the opening track, “Prelude (a fragmentary, oriental dream),” where a submerged voice, carefully obscured, hollers out. Each distant percussive rattle or strike of a piano key makes the waking world feel further and further away so that The Habu is like a drowned dream. Orchestral synth swells and glittering arpeggios rise like the sun over a lush jungle on “The Habu Snake, an Archipelago IIII.” Birds sing and disappear; discordant chaos sneaks in at the end, overtaking the Jurgen Muller-esque vibes until part V’s paranoia wins out. Martens balances so many moods in short spaces. It’s as disorienting as it is impressive, but it has purpose as he guides you through this sunken, cinematic expedition. 

I find myself returning to The Habu over and over, at all times of the day, in an attempt to unlock all of Martens’ secrets. With so many intricate layers coming from all directions, though, it’s a puzzle that won’t give up the answer so easily, and that’s part of the allure and brilliance of his work here. The Habu could be a soundtrack to any number of genres and fit in just fine. Lieven Martens work continues to be an important touchstone and with The Habu, he shows there’s so much more to come.