David Martel – Versus Us EP review

While earnest indie folk bands like Mumford and Sons and Fleet Foxes have dominated the college radio airwaves over the past several years, some sensitive guitar-playing boys have chosen to stick to the solo singer/songwriter route. One of these artists, David Martel, has just released his second EP, the four-song, seventeen-minute “Versus Us.”

Martel, based in Montreal, burst onto the music scene in 2008 with his first album, “Hardly Knew Me.” After tours across North America and France, including a spot at SXSW and a gig opening for Adele, he has released two EPs and zero full-length albums. 2011’s “You’ve Heard The Best, Now Try The Rest…” is followed by 2013’s “Versus Us,” and Martel’s website promises another full-length album coming soon.

With acoustic instruments, layered vocals, and yearning lyrics, Martel sounds like more mainstream songwriters Matt Nathanson (“Come On Get Higher”) or Eric Hutchinson (“Rock’N’Roll”). Martel’s sound would be right at home on an adult contemporary radio station in Middle America, despite his Quebecois roots – half the reviews in his press kit are in French, praising his presence on “la scene musicale montrealaise angolophone” (English music Montreal music scene), though you’d never guess it to hear him.

The EP opens with a 5-minute ballad called “I’ve Got It All,” featuring Patrick Wilson. “Faith, love, and happiness is a starting point, I hope you can agree,” Martel begins. “It’s what I always wanted, it’s what you crave the most, and no one’s gonna tell you that it’s gotta be this way.” The song is part love song, part apology, part promise and completely sincere.

The next song, “In the Middle,” has a slightly harder edge, with Martel placing some blame on the song’s addressee. “In the middle of your mess / Wanna try to understand,” Martel sings. “Sick and tired of your mess.” The song is accusatory and longing, though still as sweet as maple syrup.

“Lovesong,” the third offering, is the most traditionally romantic folk song of the EP (and also the longest, clocking in at just over five minutes). “Hair’s made of gold, I’m tired of chasing these things / Too many pills to swallow, a life to rethink,” Martel sings. It’s sweet and sad and my favorite of the EP by a long shot.

“What’s a Truck?” featuring David’s older brother Marc Martel, also a staple of the Montreal music scene, is a fun, energetic tune asking and answering the title question (and a few others: “What’s a man? What’s his love? What’s his shame? What’s a life? What’s a dream?” etc.).

You can buy “Versus Us” on Martel’s bandcamp here. It’s also available to listen to on Spotify.

By Erika W. Smith

Erika W. Smith is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter @erikawynn.

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