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Better Axe Somebody 

by ANDREW MATSON & lt;BR & & lt;BR & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & andering around a woodsy village full of miners and at least one Bigfoot (monster/beast, not monster truck), Josh Martinez raps a sad song of loss with an axe sticking out of the front of his head.

The song is called "Splitsville", and its video -- viewable at or -- is like everything the Vancouver, B.C.-dwelling rapper does: funny, insightful, gimmicky and surprisingly good.

"Surprisingly" because Martinez' field -- forward-thinking, positive-leaning NW indie-hop -- is a routine bore, a place where mediocre artists go to pasture, vilify "the herd," and rally around vague anti-authoritarianism. The genre has its own readymade defense for sucking: if you don't like it, you must not "get" it.

Flying in the face of that non-conformist conformity, though, is Martinez, who certainly does not suck.

He's a reckless dreamer (the best kind) who sees/hears things in his head and tries to make them real. He'll perform comedy rap (The Chicharones), dramedy rap (Splitsville is also the title of his 2007 album) and front a blues-rock band (The Pissed Off Wild) on consecutive nights, cramming his days with live shows (over 200 per year). His mush-mouthed rhymes are propellant even when resisting resolution: lines go unrhymed for added effect, but there's nothing hard to understand about Martinez even at his most abstract. No matter what he does, it's shot through with countless sing-songy phrases, tuneful melodies Martinez tosses off like sunflower shells. His varied output is hummable and weird, bearing restless witness to real-deal creativity.

The video for "Splitsville" is full of great photography: a sepia-toned bird's-eye shot of suit-jacketed Martinez (axe in head) walking along train tracks; against a rosy twilight sky, bald eagles populate skeletal trees like apartment buildings; farm equipment digs dirt here to pointlessly deposit it there; townsfolk are shirtless in the cold, Canadian mist, chopping down front porches like maniacs; others wait to die in front of blaring TVs in barbershops. "Splitsville" is a real, dangerous place where axes come in the mail with samples of Tide, graveyards are meant to be rapped in, and windshields exist to get broken.

It's a break-up song in Martinez' world: dark as it is ruefully funny, conceptually complex as it is absurd.

Easily up to MTV or Much Music (Canadian MTV) production values, "Splitsville" is played on neither. The relationship Josh Martinez has with the mainstream is clearly not sustainable: this guy's stuff is too good to be underground forever.

Given to singing in an easy hooded-sweatshirt drawl, Martinez sounds like Citizen Cope, the patron saint of introspective college-dormitory rap. There's a market for Martinez out there and he's actively working the angles. He runs his own indie rap label (Camobear Records) and controls every aspect of his creative career. He works hard, scoring European distribution on the strength of his excellent (largely unheard) songs and those solid (largely unseen) videos.

Watching him self-assuredly shuffle through "Splitsville" like a rueful Blake Lewis (American Idol beat-boxing runner-up), everything about him -- hip-hop gait to cold-weather scarf -- adds up to something the kids (those snowboarding, pot-smoking kids) can get down to.

Josh Martinez with the Attorney, Rhek the DJ & amp; tons of local talent at The Zombie Room on Saturday, Nov. 3, at 8 pm. $6. Call 456-4515.
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