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Drones, Terrace Martin’s first album-in-name since Velvet Portraits, started germinating in 2016. Contrary to the perception that info might cause, Martin wasn’t merely toiling away for half a decade on this loosely conceptual set. He steered the Sounds of Crenshaw, Vol. 1 and Dinner Party projects, participated in R+R=Now, and in 2020 alone released a live LP, a crop of fine EPs, and singles such as the unflinching Black rebel anthem ‘Pig Feet.’ Add to that a seemingly full slate as a producer, sideman, and touring musician aiding artists ranging from 2 Chainz to Herbie Hancock. If Drones should be heard as the follow-up to Velvet Portraits, not as part of Martin’s unceasing tear, so be it. Where the earlier album combined old-school R&B and traditional gospel, soul-jazz, and a little synth funk for over 70 mostly kicked-back minutes – with Martin often emphasizing his piquant alto sax – the comparatively succinct Drones is funkier, freakier, and ultimately more hip-hop.

Drones as a concept relates to the numbing and instant gratification-seeking effect of phones – how the devices can drain emotion out of everything from a conversation to sex – but isn’t articulated in didactic or condescending fashion. Kendrick Lamar gets the point across with his bulletin on the bumping title song, which also incorporates Martin, Snoop Dogg, Ty Dolla $ign, and James Fauntleroy as if it’s the work of a longtime vocal quartet. A section of more R&B-oriented material starts with Martin taking the lead on ‘Leave Us Be,’ a mellow L.A. travelogue and rebuke of oppressive authority built over a bassline that pops like that of Boz Scaggs’ ‘Lowdown.’ Inside that sequence, Martin also extends a smooth downcast ballad like a tender revision of his own ‘Lies,’ gives way to a low-spirited Arin Ray, and cooks up a deceptively tricky and anachronistic groove – broken beat from 1985 – for a detached Channel Tres and dispirited Celeste to warn about surveillance. Another sequence later could occur only on a Terrace Martin album. It includes the regal instrumental ‘Griots of the Crenshaw District’ (the album’s equivalent to Dinner Party’s ‘First Responders’), built on scuffed drums and righteous interlocking brass featuring Kamasi Washington. After a pair of other highlights that switch with ease from heartache to resilience, Martin uplifts the congregation with a motivational message through his vocoder, setting up Kim Burrell to provide thoughtful spiritual solace on the finale. By the end, it’s clear why Martin saw this as a special statement that required a little extra time to bake.” -Andy Kellman, AllMusic.com, 4.5/5 stars (The AllMusic 2021 Year In Review – Best Of 2021)
DRONES was recorded at Organic Grease Studios, Larrabee Recording Studios, Henson Recording Studios, and Chalice Recording Studios. The album was mixed at Organic Grease Studios and mastered by Mike Bozzi at Bernie Grundman Mastering.


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