Album review

Why Dave McEathron says you should listen to the new Selina Martin album right now

Dave McEathron is a singer-songwriter and musician known for his work with the Warped 45s and, most recently, his solo material. But today he takes a break from creating his own music to heap praise on a fellow artist: Selina Martin.

Maybe Selina Martin is doing it wrong. Maybe you shouldn’t spend years developing songs to get them to feel “truly true.” Maybe you don’t wander spring fields recording the sounds of frogs and birds before you even know there will be a chance to build upon them. Maybe you don’t move away from home, country, and continent to challenge yourself to new artistic heights, and this at an age at which artists have sometimes given up and given in. Maybe bowed saw, accordion and other off-brand acoustic instruments don’t fit in modern song-writing . Maybe Selina Martin is doing it wrong.

But the fact that she is so uncommitted to the right way is actually by design.

“Part of the reason I moved away (to France) was to explore solitude or aloneness,” she said. “A lot of great art comes from this. And I think it is part of the fundamental human condition, despite our attempts to deny it. Also, I think, in order to start to find my own voice, I had to first get a little lost. David Bowie said something about putting oneself somewhere outside of one’s comfort zone in order to create.”

The result is an album that can sink its hooks into you. I know – I took a glancing listen to her first single “Tangiers,” sent her a small congratulatory message on release day, and sparked a lengthy correspondence.

“If You Were a River,” a song inspired by Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy,” was the first song that forced me to listen four times straight.

Soon after, “Two Storeys/The Ground” demanded my attention. A month later I was sending Selina questions about modulation, lyrics and her process. I was trying to get people to listen deeper – to hear this. It had me, and that is what has led to my first foray into article writing.

This work deserves an audience.

Time Spent Swimming was five long years in the making.

“The recording part took two years,” Selina recalled. “ Initially I was going to do all the beds in a studio as per the normal way of making a record, but then the pandemic came, and everything had to be cancelled. Myself and my excellent Toronto-based audio and mixing engineer Alex Gamble decided to go ahead anyway. We would make the album remotely. Each week I recorded, arranged, and wrote or re-wrote on my own, and each Friday Alex and I had a remote screen-sharing session of 4-5 hours when we’d edit, rearrange, and explore the effects of putting the sounds together. For part of the time I was in Canada, and part of the time I was in France, with a six-hour time difference. I sent tracks to various musician friends who had home-recording capabilities across Canada, and also searched in Berlin for violin (Meredith Bates), accordion (Annelise Noronha), hand percussion (Chendy Leon), bass & double bass (Doug Friesen), drums (Maya Postepski / Michael Phillip Wojewoda / Barry Mirochnick) and there were a few lucky instances of recording in person (from a distance, following the guidelines). When I was back in Canada, I added bass clarinet (Julia Hambleton), trumpet (Sarah McElcheran) and drums (Evan Cartwright), plus frogs and birds, thanks to my sister, who pushed me outside with my microphone and laptop during spring frog season near Ottawa.”

“I used acoustic instruments (guitar, vibraphone, musical saw), electric and electronic instruments, samples, field recordings, and I experimented a lot with vocal improvisation. I like mixing it all in. All sound is and has potential. No sounds should be excluded from the opportunity to be in a song. It’s very exciting to allow different elements to work together to create something new. And the sessions with Alex helped make everything sound the way I wanted. No session ended without us both being satisfied with the sounds. It’s definitely not the easy way to make a record, but this particular album wouldn’t have been made without COVID-related restrictions, which I am now grateful for. I had time to really dive into each song. Every note and each sound and even each silence between sounds had to feel right. I think this attention to detail is at least part of the reason Time Spent Swimming is receiving so much attention in North America and in Europe. I’m extremely grateful for it.”

When asked for an artistic self-description, she offers these insights: “Porous, and willful. Impatient. Sometimes too inwardly-focused. Half self-love and half self-loathe. I appreciate tradition, but for me, it’s there to be built upon. It’s a foundation for exploration. I often write using traditional forms but then deconstruct them a little, and add non-traditional sounds.”

This is a recording that not only bears repeated listens; it rewards each hearing with new revelations of an astonishing depth without ever feeling heavy or overdone. Selina Martin forced herself out of her comfort zone into a state of intense searching and reflection all for the sake of producing music that wouldn’t just sound pleasing but would hold a deeper meaning for her and for potential listeners. Through various moves and many countries, and despite a harrowing, epic pandemic and other obstacles, she kept at it, working until it felt “truly true,” lyrically and sonically. Despite doubts and loneliness and budget shortfalls, in the face of culture shifts and her own unsteady sense of peace, she persevered.

One song that would echo in her head over and over during this time was Randy Newman’s “Maybe I’m Doing It Wrong” with the lyrics “Maybe I’m doing it wrong / Maybe I’m doing it wrong / There ain’t no book you can read / There ain’t nobody to tell ya.”

If the way Selina Martin did it was indeed wrong, I hope more artists can benefit from her example and follow their own path. In my opinion, this is a master work by an artist at the peak of her potential. Just do it. Wrong!

See Selina live:

  • March 30, The Lido, Vancouver, B.C. (with Ford Pier)
  • Mar 31 – Midway Hall, Osoyoos, B.C.
  • April 1-2 – Ignite the Arts Festival, Penticton, B.C.
  • April 7 – Time & Space Continuum, Duncan, B.C.
  • April 14 – Dakota Tavern, Toronto, ON (early show)
  • April 15 – Conspiracy Theory Brewing Company, Ottawa, ON
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