Terrace Martin Brings Old-School Warmth on 'DRONES'

The music of Terrace Martin is all about warmth. A prominent member of L.A.’s jazz scene, the multi-instrumentalist (and frequent Kendrick Lamar collaborator) builds off funk, hip-hop, and R&B to create lush tapestries that feel as bright and inviting as a perpetual 70-degree day.

That cozy human element propels his fantastic new album, DRONES, whose balmy, high vibes play imaginative counterpoint to the project’s themes of an automated 21st century. The title track, which features a brief but typically canny chorus from Lamar, has fun with the irony of modern people becoming more and more robotic in our most animalistic state: “I call her only when I want it/They call us drones and we both know/Computers in the dark, makin’ more clones.”

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Despite the snug, Rhodes-accented backdrop of “Drones”—which gives off big, local juice bar energy (and would feel at home in a talky scene from the latest episode of “Insecure”)—the message is that sex is all that’s left in place of conversation, communication, and “edumacation,” all, arguably, the most human aspects of our interactions.

Martin adds a lively layer of funk to “Leave Us Be,” bringing benevolence to the topic of aerial police surveillance. And “Sick of Crying”—with its pointed observation that “the hood relentless, pain is all we know”—conjures harrowing street sounds, with a pungent saxophone that’s, nonetheless, an aural snapshot of whatever Venice Beach probably looks like right now.

While “Tapped,” whose repetitive warning that we’re all being watched feels a bit on the nose, the blithe spoken-word bit, “Leimert Park” suggests a remedy: whether living under Big Brother or just shooting the shit with big bro, the cut’s resilient refrain is “I’mma always pull up.” All that’s missing are the congratulatory finger snaps. Terrace, it turns out, is just an analog dude in a digital world.

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