Explorers of Infinity (February 28, Nectar Drop Records) is the latest release from Marti Nikko and DJ Drez.
This new collection represents another sonic landmark in the evolving collaboration between these two yogis, artists and lovers. Producing a sound both familiar and ever-fresh, Drez and Marti continue to entangle their talents to create anthemic tracks that linger with the listener long after the song is over.
Endings arose as a potent theme as the album was recorded and produced in the couple’s home studio throughout 2016. For many of us, 2016 was a year of traumatic losses and sudden change as cycles came crashing to a close before the any sense of what next could congeal.
Collectively, we faced the deaths of too many paradigm-shattering artists. In their personal sphere, Marti and Drez also dealt with the devastating loss of dearly loved ones. The title of this project, Explorers of Infinity, alludes to the ineffable realm where these beings now dwell. It also speaks to the internal process of the yogi/artist, seeking to make internal sense of external suffering, exploring the limitless opportunities life offers to transmute pain into beauty and back again.
Directly reflecting the year in which it was created, a mournful tone permeates the album and finds counterpoint in moments of explosive intensity. The title track aches with gentle pain. Nikko’s voice alights sweetly, sadly over simple but potent piano notes most reminiscent of a Gil-Scott Heron-style jazz.
The mood is full of mourning but also the innate strength necessary to address suffering face-to-face. The mahamantra at the center of this song embodies the alternating currents of connection and separation — hare krsna, hare krsna shows the unification of lover and beloved; krsna krsna, hare hare shows the separation needed if there is to be space in which to dance. This incessant flux of oneness and otherness is a tidy summary of the human experience; it is the simultaneous source of all pain, all joy.
When the delicate suffering of “Explorers of Infinity” ends, like a feather settling to the earth, the album thunders into action with ground-shaking “Ganapati.” Suddenly there are drums, and a [sitar] riff portending imminent battle or upliftment. Chants of “Hey!” are a call to awaken from the slumber of mourning, a call to action. The invocation of Ganesha, the great remover of obstacles, invites boldness, and as the bass line drops into nimble bija mantra repetitions, the choice is clear. There is no time now for sullen self-pity; the only noble option is to carry on with greater fervor than ever before.
The impulse to combine such drastically contrasting moods arose partly from the experience of leading public workshops, wherein Nikko will guide a group through a given mantra in a very sweet, loving fashion before reproducing that same mantra with fierce passion and violence. The same way we humans contain within us all that is both powerful and meek, the mantras can be a vehicle for accessing every dark corner of ourselves and bringing it to light. The music presented on Explorers of Infinity reflects this and itself serves as a potent guide through the process of excavation, catharsis and resolution.
As fans of Marti and Drez will expect, Explorers of Infinity dances around the world of music. “Jai Sri Radhe” opens the album with a distinctly hiphop feel, with snappy snare hits and a steady hi-hat underlying Nikko’s soulful mantra variations. “Nataraja” is pure reggae, guaranteed to infect the brain with sattvic mantras whether or not you can accurately pronounce all the Sānskrit. “Bom Bom Shankara” engages a deep, slow dub-style decorated with jazzy saxophone solos.
Although there is an intelligent jazz sensibility demonstrated throughout the album, for this writer the key word is soul. The musical influences are diverse, but every single track is evidence of an authentically heart-felt intent to express a specific rasa, an essential flavor of feeling that cannot be forced or faked. It can only arise from the very experience of fury or despair, disgust or delight. The supreme source of such profoundly felt emotion is that ephemeral entity humans call soul. Marti Nikko consistently brings this element to bear, and Drez is just skillful enough to capture it, add musical context and publish it for posterity.
The album closes with a Nikko/Drez original composition called “Coming Home.” This sweet, ethereal piece honors those who have passed on from this realm, as well as those seeking an eternal home within themselves while still here. Continuing the exploration started on their previous album Alpine Swift, Drez contributes lyrics and baritone vocals to complement Marti Nikko’s soprano peaks.
It is a fitting conclusion to the album — intensely emotional, potentially sad but essentially hopeful. The lyrics seek to reframe the experience of death (be it physical, egoic, or otherwise) not as a loss, but as a return.
Lao-Tzu is commonly quoted as saying, “Birth is an exit; death an entrance.” In that context, we can feel reassured. The seemingly insane cycles encircling the world at the moment are little more than cosmic in-breath; our entire lives nothing but an out-breath. Our attempts to fix and solve leave us gasping for air until we are reminded to stop in the stillness at the top (or bottom) and catch our breath before the next exit. Once again, Marti Nikko and DJ Drez have created a soundtrack capable of providing such a reminder. Find it wherever you buy music.