Ape School’s Michael Johnson and Flanafi’s Simon Martinez | still from video
Flanafi and Ape School make mutant sounds with an emotional core on ‘The Knees Start to Go’
Flanafi is the musical nom de plume of songwriter and guitarist Simon Martinez. As a guitarist, Martinez has played with everyone from Jazmine Sullivan and Marsha Ambrosius to the funky soul ensemble Killiam Shakespeare. Last year, Martinez debuted the Flanafi moniker with a barrage of releases that combined beautifully written indie-soul songs with intriguing electronic production. With Flanafi, Martinez displays impressive versatility by mining everything from loose Sly Stone-esque funk (“Inner Urge”) to understated singer-songwriter melancholia (“Give Your Kid A Gun”).
Next, Martinez would release passing over, a short EP packed with gorgeous and quirky songs, while Do You Have My Money? was a sprawling masterwork that showcased Martinez’s songs and avant-garde approach to guitar. For his latest, The Knees Start To Go, Martinez collaborates with producer, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist, Michael Johnson (aka Ape School). Having met when Martinez was a student of Johnson’s at the University of The Arts, the duo’s work together is as bizarre and beautiful as it is emotionally piercing.
The Knees Start To Go hits the ground running with “Family, Friends”, an inventive, dreamy tune. Musically, the song conjures the sound of early µ-Ziq’s skittering drum n’ bass while Martinez’s lyrics touch on the disappointment that comes with interpersonal relationships with lyrics delivered at a quiet, Nick Drake-ian whisper:
“Pleasing to my eyes, I can’t watch anything too sad
even though I wanna watch all the films with you
Heard that you are Ill better get that illness out
Suck it out of those fat old wrinkly legs
Shuffle through the deck of photos
Do you remember when?!
Building for a brighter tomorrow makes for a shitty today
Lame lame lame lame never say that again
Loving all my friends
Loving all my friends
“Look at This!” captures the confusion, uncertainty, and enrapturing magic of love. Easing in from behind a wall of guitar, a hypnotic bassline, and a distorted, glitching drum machine, Martinez draws a detailed illustration of the effort put in by (and desperation of) the newly in love.
“Must be into you
Oh oh dying to impress you
Let me show you this, let me show you that, let me show you this, let me show you
Oh I see you over there
Don’t want to make it obvious
Don’t want anyone to know one to know
Dying to impress
Must be into you
Don’t want anyone but you
Oh oh dying to impress you”
Inevitably, the early magic fades. Settled in yet drifting apart, a new kind of desperation takes over and we’re and we are left trying to figure out how, why and when it all went so sour.
“Why does this happen?
Four times in my life thus far
Wasting all the early times
Tell me you’re impressed
Let me show you this
Let me show you that”
With songs like the glowing, lo-fi, future pop of “Birds Toss And Turn In Their Sleep” and the anthemic reflection on aging “25, 27, 30,” The Knees Start To Go is a gem of an album that fuses a variety of sounds into a truly unique and distinctive whole. Martinez and Johnson’s experiments with twisting and mutating sounds only serve to augment the emotional impact of these rich and delightful songs.
Listen to The Knees Start To Go below, and see Flanafi perform live with Ape School this Saturday, September 4th at PhilaMOCA with Grocer and Grace Vonderkuhn; tickets and more information can be found here.