By Daniel Paiz
It’s the return of A Week’s Worth Album Review, and this time the focus is on Terrace Martin’s Drones project that reached the world on November 5th. The 13 song project zooms by in the 40 minutes or so it clocks, but every single track has something ear-catching. Terrace Martin, if you aren’t familiar, has been a very busy musician. He’s been making his own music, producing for Top Dawg Entertainment artists for years, and just creating as much as he can. Martin was somebody I first came across when listening to a 9th Wonder album and I’m glad I’ve kept checking for his music.
Drones doesn’t really have as much sociopolitical commentary as I was thinking due to the title. Don’t let that fool you into thinking the project doesn’t have plenty to say, both lyrically and sonically. This project feels like something a year from now might just still be in rotation.
Sonic gems whether you hear what I hear or not
This album feels like it can be broken down into two messages: tracks one through seven play with the idea of drones in a variety of ways, while also offering a variety of social commentary. Tracks eight through thirteen feel like a shift away from commentary and criticism, and a move towards pushing through the barriers and difficulties that one faces in life. Whether those difficulties are at an individual, community, or societal level, there are ways to get through them. Martin does a great job of delivering sonic reminders of how to do so.
What’s even better about the latter six tracks is that while perseverance is sprinkled throughout, the music is still the primary focus. Nothing is lost in the notes and emotions granted by the musicians. If you hear the subtle nods to perseverance, resilience and the like, kudos to you; if you don’t, as a listener you’re likely still getting the quintessential point of the music.
To get a better idea of what I’m talking about, let’s go track by track briefly so I can better explain each song. Each reaction I have might not be yours, but it’s always helpful to get multiple perspectives in order to get a more layered and nuanced vision.
Breaking down Drones track by track
Commentary via the first seven tracks
Breaking down lyrics is usually something I relish in. However in this project, the lyrics are really just a bonus to the tunes unfolding before our very ears. The words add to each song, but each song prior to lyrics is already so rich and full.
Turning Poison into Medicine starts off very jazzy (per usual for a Martin project). This song is a mood setter and has such an atmospheric feeling to it. I envision a picture of an overhead view from a drone of the landscape below that is our current contemporary society.
Drones is the title track reflecting on how mechanic and autonomous humans and society are becoming. The lyricists on this track help to zero in on the continued irony of, we have all the tools to communicate and yet connection between one another is terrible these days. What truly moves the message along in this song is the Funk aesthetics; think George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic vibes, with a message that’s simple yet effective.
Leave Us Be is fantastically guided by the Jazz and Funk vibes permeating these notes. Something to note that many people don’t pay attention to is the song sequencing. The order of these tracks is helping to build the overall concept so well. This track gets to the larger idea that part of being a drone is the desired isolation hinted at throughout this song, that solo existence that’s sought out so much lately.
Work It Out has a vibe of crossroads. Basically, society today is seeming to mix past interactions with current encounters and then dealing with the issues that arise via these crossed paths. The past and present colliding can cause unnecessary roadblocks.
This Morning is an emotional composition, where it feels more than it says. Moving beyond obstacles presented from others is another component adding to the feels of this song. I can’t emphasize how soulful this track is.
Tapped leads me to think more people should listen to those dealing with and tapped into their communities’ everyday life. It’s already being tapped into by government and business monitoring, so it might be fruitful to tap in locally amongst those one lives around. This track feels very observational. It’s almost a warning, via very jazzy tunes.
Reflection continues the reflective tunes trope. The music taps into looking back at life via abstract thoughts and certain moments that arise over soulful, looming sounds. This is also where the album begins to tonally shift.
Perseverance and Resilience through the latter six songs
This tonal shift feels pretty natural, and Martin’s song selection keeps things flowing smoothly. These songs offer more hope than the previous seven. Hope via perseverance and resilience are much needed in today’s current state of affairs.
A snapshot into a neighborhood bar is the setting of Leimert Park. The only track that really feels like a skit has spoken word delivery with bar ambiance in the background (“Always going to pull up!”). This one is a prelude to the next track and the remaining songs.
Griots of the Crenshaw District is a collection of musical masterminds converging. The combined sonic ideas unfolding grows as the track reaches its ending. Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, and Hit-Boy creating a full project together would be amazing to hear after this track concludes.
Evil Eyes are a reminder that outside distractions cannot be allowed to interfere. When there are distractions, naysayers, and/or impediments to one’s creative and overall life process, they have to be overcome. Martin taps Malaya and YG’s distinct yet very different sounds to deliver this encouragement.
Sick of Cryin’ emanates frustration throughout and is well documented in daily life per the artists on this track. Countless things make progression in life difficult. Needing to name and lament these barriers allows the listener to continue to progress forward.
Don’t Let Go has a voice box that deeply reminds this listener as to why we’re all still here. So much automation and life struggles makes it hard to do so; however, these sounds remind us to not let go in our lives and to hold on.
Listen is the culmination of this second set of tracks. The project has moved past highlighting the issues. Instead, this track acts as a needed reminder for each of us to seek solution and growth. The parting message is for the listener to stick around, listen, and deal with life and the emotions that come with living.
There are some projects that pull a listener in based off of lyrics, while others sonically enamor you. In this case, it’s a well-blended mix of the two. The sounds create a full audio landscape the listener can become enveloped in fairly quickly. Lyrics both sung and rapped add layering to the sounds, without overpowering any single track. This project sounds like it could’ve come from someone much more seasoned than Terrace Martin. That isn’t to say Martin hasn’t already earned his musical stripes, so to speak.
Rather, his musical understanding is something we all get to sit in and relish due to how he produces music seemingly beyond his years. Drones is a project that hits that mark so many aim for, that balancing act between timely and timeless. It feels like just the right amount of everything.