Artists On Albums: AOA#52 (The Home Current’s Martin Jensen on To Each)

Martin Jensen (The Home Current) on…

A Certain Ratio’s To Each (Factory Records, 1981)

A Certain Ratio – To Each

I don’t think I will ever fully comprehend why A Certain Ratio’s first official album, To Each, has always been written off as somewhat mediocre. At the time of its release in 1981, it enjoyed a lukewarm reception at best and it was generally brushed aside as the band’s attempt to piggyback on fellow Mancunians, Joy Division, after the passing of their frontman Ian Curtis. ACR were accused of abandoning their initial restless and rawer punk approach, as witnessed on their debut The Graveyard And The Ballroom cassette and although singer Simon Topping at times resembles a passionate Ian Curtis and whilst To Each was produced by studio wizard Martin Hannett and was released on Factory, I believe comparisons stop there. The ultra-funky and crispy drums of Donald Johnson, Jeremy Kerr’s in-your-face rubbery bass lines and Martin Moscrop’s neurotic and detuned trumpets, comfortably put this in a league of its own. To Each looked to the future, and with the album ACR took a giant leap well into proto electro/dance music territory before many other – and more celebrated – acts followed suit.

The dance element certainly played a role when I first heard the album back in the early ‘90s. At the time, I was very busy DJ-ing and was almost exclusively into the dance/club/hip-hop scene, which is probably why the uber-funky drumming on To Each hit me straight in the solar plexus from the word go. Opener “Felch” starts out with a nervous synth drone before a steady 4/4 beat, percussion and bass chords are gradually faded in. This scene-setter then explodes in a tight-as-anything funk workout, taking absolutely no prisoners. “My Spirit” follows in a similar but more up-tempo vein, before “Forced Laugh” drops the BPM and settles in a killer groove with hypnotic and dizzying trumpet licks. Fourth track “Choir” is probably ACR at their most Joy Division and the track might lure you in to think “ah, familiar territory.” A short breather then, as “Back To The Start” is about to unleash a terrific rhythm mutant disco orgy with plenty of percussive breakdowns.

One of ACR’s better-known tracks, “The Fox” inaugurates the second-side and it remains a highlight in their catalogue. The symbiosis between Johnson’s stellar drum work and Kerr’s sublime bass playing is at its peak here. It is easy to imagine Melle Mel or The Sugar Hill Gang rapping over next track “Loss”, which comes across like a lost b-boy classic. Once again Johnson is on absolute fire yet he remains cool and restrained. Oh, and those trumpets… “Oceans” sees the band back in a more familiar Factory sphere, before the 12+ minutes album closer changes the game entirely. “Winter Hill” is as far from anything cold as can be and is probably quite close to what it would sound like had the legendary nightclub The Haçienda been situated in Rio de Janeiro instead of Manchester. If you can, try to imagine Belgian new beat meeting Brazilian samba meeting Frippertronics. An absolute stormer of a track.

And there you have it – To Each in all its groovy and gritty glory. A Certain Ratio (named so after a lyrical line taken from Eno’s “The True Wheel” song, off 1974’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) album) went on to cut the equally brilliant Sextet album in 1982, but this fire starter of a debut album maintains its cutting edge even today. At least if you ask me. To each their own, I guess.

Notes On The Artist:

Martin Jensen

The Danish-born and currently Luxembourg-based Martin Jensen may be a late-blooming sonic sculptor of his own under the alias of The Home Current but he’s been a near-life-long collector, devotee and facilitator within the record-releasing world.  Having been an active DJ since 1987 (which included hosting one of the first radio shows playing dance/electronic music in Denmark), Jensen also co-founded and co-managed the still ongoing Second Language label between 2009 and 2014 (alongside Piano Magic’s Glen Johnson and ubiquitous polymath David Sheppard of Ellis Island Sound, Snow Palms et al.).  During his time with the 2L clan (which also overlapped with a temporary relocation from Copenhagen to London), Jensen is most fondly regarded for being the main curator of the label’s acclaimed three-volume ornithologically-themed Music And Migration compilation series.

As well as helping to bring works from the lauded likes of Colleen, Pete Astor, Littlebow, Brave Timbers, Oliver Cherer, Mark Fry and others into the world, Jensen’s time with Second Language saw the first embryonic outings for The Home Current across various compilation contributions, a bonus disc EP and a handful of ‘in-house’ remix commissions.  Since leaving the 2L fold, Jensen has drip-fed The Home Current’s amorphous ambient-techno-noire explorations across three sought-after seven-inch singles (one being a split with Oliver Cherer’s The Assistant) on London’s irresistible Polytechnic Youth label in 2015, 2016 and earlier this year.

The Home Current EP

His sonic breadcrumb continues presently with the release of an extremely limited eponymous lathe-cut 7”/CD EP bundle on the much-loved Static Caravan.  The four gathered tracks find Jensen diverting The Home Current into deeper and more danceable immersions.  Fusing unapologetic but intelligent 3am Balearic beatscapes and squelching synths (“Uncertain Twilight” and “Ballad Of The Night Machines”), Four Tet-meets-Tortoise percussive workouts (on the standout “When Waiting Deadly”) and minimal-wave-via-Ibiza soundscapes (“Kvalitetstid”), the extended-player confirms that The Home Current can swing hips as well as create atmospheric comedown settings.  With a full-length album in the works to supplement the existing short-form release driven discography, The Home Current’s piecemeal produce is steadily building-up as a substantial and collectible body of work on the fringes.