The 2010s were an insane time. Culture was not just moving laterally forward, but exploding outwardly in a way that we have never seen before with the rise of the Internet (both the band and the web service) and a new global digital village. With such an amazing outlet for musicians removing so much of the obstacles for making music, it is only natural that the landscape of sound was fertile soil.
In this article, I hope to highlight how Matt Martians and Vritra, through The Jet Age of Tomorrow, laid the groundwork for changing the landscape of sound in the 2010s, and also how they managed to do it without ever appearing from behind the curtain.
In order to discuss the way that music was reshaped, we must first roll things back a bit and uncover the history of The Jet Age of Tomorrow. The Jet Age of Tomorrow is a now defunct project that Matt Martians (of The Internet, the band, which I will no longer be specifying after each mention) and Vritra, formerly known as Pyramid Vritra during the duration of the project, began in the MySpace era.
The musical influences that inspired this project vary greatly, as with any fringe group that finds its legs on the internet. Matt Martians cites Japanese musician and DJ, Fantastic Plastic Machine, and virtual band, The Gorillaz, as two of the major inspirations for the project. Both challenged his perspective on what music looks and sounds like from an early age, and it is evident in the musical process how such eclecticism can breed innovation.
One would also be remised to leave Atlanta out of the equation. Even now, Matt Martians takes great pride in his hometown and its far-reaching musical influences while also hoping not to be defined by it. Though Odd Future occurred in the greater LA sprawl, Martians stayed true to southern roots and never feared paying homage to the music that happened around him growing up.
This combination of two different worlds of sound, combined with Martians and Vritra’s own innovations and experimentation, managed to create a new kind of sound that had never truly been seen before. Rather than being reductive, their music manages to pay homage to not only electronic origins pushing modern boundaries, but also the space-age acts of the previous decades that they took cues from. Being able to give a nod of appreciation to such varied interests while also bringing something that is uniquely themselves to the table is the basis for how they were able to create a type of sound that has planted its roots in the current zeitgeist of Neo-Soul phenomena.
The Jet Age of Tomorrow was originally started as a group called The Super 3, consisting of Matt Martians, Vritra, and rapper BrandUn DeShay. With Matt Martian and Vritra producing and Brandun DeShay providing vocals, the trio released The Super D3shay EP. This album, while only 8 tracks, served as a sampler for the types of music that those involved would elaborate on further later. Despite being a debut project, there are some amazing songs on this album that show the amazing ear for music that the collaborators shared and the potential for further exploration.
This album is still very much listenable and shows what could’ve been an entirely different path than how things eventually played out, had the volatile energy of the early Odd Future era finally come to rest in a different place. A lot of this era’s musical signatures are on display in this work, with lots of vocal pitch changes and spacey synths. The final song on this album ends with a distorted phone call between DeShay and Martians highlighting several upcoming projects and the eagerness to show the world what is coming.
While this EP was being released, Matt Martians was coming in contact with Tyler, The Creator and other Odd Future co-founders through early internet means of communication — MySpace and AIM. Shortly after, Martians featured on the first Odd Future tape on production, and became an obscure but paramount figure for the group.
It is truthfully hard to understate his influence on the overall sound of the Odd Future era, since Martians was one of few producers (the others being Left Brain, Syd, and Vritra) in what was primarily a group of rappers. His name can be found on almost all of their projects for a while, despite the huge variety in style between the members and their respective works. His focus on synth and unique percussion layer the discography of early Odd Future projects like a tattoo, hiding under the skin of whatever artist picked up the mic. Even when artists like Tyler and Earl began producing their own music, the influence of Matt Martians was impossible to miss.
While Odd Future unfolded and created the insane youth culture era that we remember during their heyday, Matt Martians began to work on his main focus of the time: The Jet Age of Tomorrow.
The Jet Age of Tomorrow was actually one of the first of many Odd Future offshoots, overlapping with The Internet for a few years. It actually formed out of a bit of happenstance, with Matt and Vritra deciding to reinvent and recycle beats that Tyler, The Creator and Hodgy Beats had been unable to rap on. Instead of just housing forlorn beats, however, the project began to find its own legs and turn the byproducts into a completely new sound. Leaving the creative confines of backing production for vocalists, their sound was given the freedom to foray into more abstract, atmospheric songs with legs of their own.
The Jet Age of Tomorrow released their first album, Voyager, in 2010. Voyager is, to be succinct, an amazing album. Seriously, if you haven’t heard it, stop reading and listen to it.
“But Shes Not My Lover” was the breakout song, if breakout could be used to describe a fringe album like this. But it was enough to earn a place on an Odd Future sampler release in 2011, a period where the group began to diverge from their core sound (the sound of exclusively making people angry and uncomfortable) and embrace the more diverse sound that the members were making as they grew as musicians.
The sounds of this album were all over the place but still sounded at home, unified by a central space theme in both the content and instrumentation. With Jet Age, it seems like Vritra and Martians, if not outright abandoning the lo-fi hiphop they were creating for the group, were at least honing it down and refining the aspects of it that they enjoyed for the sort of afrofuturist sound that it calls back to.
Songs like “My Good Girl” almost defer to Nintendo’s video game soundtracks in simplistic instrumental journeys, while others like the album opener, “Welcome Aboard Voyager”, are conceptual and experimental, with audio of a stewardess explaining space flight procedure over percussion and tuned down vocables. We don’t hear much vocals on this project, but when we do they are chosen with care. The closer, “Lisa, Where Have You Been?” is a marvel, with a rich airy background over Martians’ vocals singing into the expanse, while Vritra briefly appears on “Strobe Light”, with a staccato and distorted verse sneaking its way in before the song concludes.
One of the most controversial parts of the album is a song called “The Knight Hawk”, which almost any hiphop fan would recognize, though from another artist’s song.
This song was essentially ripped directly and turned into the beat for “A.D.H.D.” by Kendrick Lamar, with no credit to Matt Martians. Martians was sent the song by friends after it came out to find that he was not cited or making any money off of the stolen sample, and it is generally understood to be at least one of the events that reinforced Matt Martians decision to disappear from the public eye aside from a few scant interviews.
This was not the only release of 2010 for The Jet Age of Tomorrow, as they would release Journey to the 5th Echelon on the last day of the year, December 31st, 2010.
I consider this to be their most experimental project released under The Jet Age of Tomorrow. While the core duo of production remain the same, on this album the two are joined by several guests from their immediate circle that introduce a bit of variety to the project. This becomes a more common theme as time goes on, perhaps paying homage to the Gorillaz, who also employ the tactic of keeping a core sound with a revolving door of guests scattered throughout. Or perhaps they were just making music and invited their friends, since we see several Odd Future members including Tyler, The Creator, as well as newbie Kilo Kish, who began to work with Martians and Vritra before releasing her debut EP in 2012. Since Martians and Vritra rarely bring out their own voices on this project, it gives the songs a bit more variety and allows them to produce with vocals in mind rather than the instrumentation serving as the foreground for every song.
The album opens with “Green Stars”, with what sounds like Mort Garson’s Plantasia being sampled in the background as Martians gives a brief foreword about the album and being taken to the 5th Echelon himself. He describes finding himself at a place where he didn’t know where his life was taking him, but then received an invitation to “climb into the stars.”
This circles around back to, what is in my opinion, one of the defining features of the project: the search for something beyond us. The bedroom production coupled with the idea of a cosmic search reflects a sort of introspective desire for the author, but also goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the album, which seems to take the listener on a journey of their own. I’ve always felt this way about the Gorillaz as well (particularly Demon Days), so it is only fair that it might inspire Matt in the same way.
There are a few songs that don’t add much to the album, but amongst those are some gems highlighting the best moments of the project. One of my personal favorite Jet Age songs, “Burfday”, is a Vritra song. As a fan of his own music for years, it is a gem in that it feels like him finding his legs with rapping but still having fun.
“Wonderland” is another song of theirs that features Vritra, who appears more often as the project progresses. The song is another song about fantasy, about the chase for something beyond ones reach, and the lush accompanying production only accentuates it. This album is more polarizing because it doubles down on the experimentation and levity of these types of songs, but I find it beautiful and think all self-indulgences are validated as an artist. The ethos of Jet Age of Tomorrow is not trying to make an album that will chart, it is making the vision that the creators have, and it does not compromise for the sake of levity or the listener.
“Want You Still” is a song that divides listeners based on if they like Kilo Kish’s singsong delivery, but I have always enjoyed it. She has an amazing voice and it makes me sad that there aren’t more tracks of her working with Martians or Vritra than exist now, because I’ve always felt they were a great match for each other in how they both tow the line of eschewing listenability for taking risks. The synthy, dissonant backing of this song highlights how good her voice is and meshes well in the mixture of high musicianship, low fidelity bedroom project style. It makes the music feel more authentic and built from the ground up, rather than engineered in a lab for maximum appeal.
Critics of this album will often cite the first few instrumental songs (and the album itself) as overly long, but to me this album is not meant to be rushed through. It is like a journey in of itself, one is to enjoy the ride even in the slow moments rather than rush through to the end point.
After this, The Jet Age of Tomorrow took a bit of a backseat in Martians’ life. Vritra began working on his own solo projects (which are also solid and expansive) while Martians and Syd began to work on a new project, The Internet.
While I won’t delve quite as deep into The Internet, I think it is worth mentioning that they are the point where ideas from Jet Age were given a platform to reach a huge audience with the success of The Internet’s later albums. At this time in 2011, the Internet was getting ready to release their first major album, Purple Naked Ladies.
This album was a quiet release. It was the first step for a promising but still unsure offshoot from the Odd Future collective, also the debut record of (now defunct) Odd Future Records.
Frankly, this album gets shit on by critics for no real reason. Even divorced from the context of the musical movement that its release was a stepping stone for, it is a solid album and the world just wasn’t ready for it upon release. This partnership of Syd and Matt Martians was a natural kind of chemistry. The two just got along. While the off the wall antics of the Odd Future era raged on, these two quiet members of the group were able to bounce ideas off of each other with a rare psynergy that allowed the talents of both to shine and create something new.
Musically, some songs on Purple Naked Ladies have very strong Jet Age influence, but the album marks a noted pivot towards Neo-Soul, a term that eventually most would describe the group with as their careers continued. While calling back to R&B influences, the new era of the post-internet sound was evident with a strong electronic backing for most tracks and a psychedelic undertone that was simultaneously more pronounced but also more straightforward than abstract.
The title track, “Violet Nude Women”, is a great indicator of the new sound that the two were producing. It is heavy with warbly synth and electric guitar undercurrents, but retaining the familiar percussion Martians brought to the Jet Age albums thus far. Syd, no stranger to the appeal of synths either, brings her own unique production into the mix and allows for a combination of the two’s dreamy sound to reach a new level.
“Ode To A Dream” is still my favorite song from their debut, and it features both Kilo Kish and Coco O. of Quadron. This song, particularly the end, retains the same sort of experimental electronic sound that the Jet Age of Tomorrow professed in their music, but also manages to push it into a more understandable structure with the aid of the guest vocalists and Syd’s own soft refrains.
After Purple Naked Ladies, it seemed clear that the two had something special. Work would continue from the duo for years before they picked up their contemporaries in the band as permanent fixtures and they would quickly begin work on their 2013 follow-up album, Feel Good.
I won’t cover much more about The Internet because to try to cram it all into one article would do a disservice to the effort and impact of the group, but Purple Naked Ladies is specifically important to this story because it serves as a stepping stone between the two eras of music. Without Purple Naked Ladies we never would’ve seen the Internet evolve into the slightly more palatable sound that managed to take such a strong hold in the following years, but without The Jet Age of Tomorrow, we likely would not have gotten Purple Naked Ladies.
While Matt became more involved with The Internet and their gradual rise to stardom, it left less time to work on his own pet projects.
However, in 2013, six months before the sophomore Internet album, Martians and Vritra released the third Jet Age of Tomorrow album, The Jellyfish Mentality.
The Jellyfish Mentality is a bit of an oddity. It combines some of their most prolific songs of the project with some of their most abstract. We have some songs like “One Take”, with guest verses from Earl Sweatshirt and Casey Veggies providing what could be a bookend to the era when the duo were producing for rappers. Others, like “Warping Walls” are true to the form of the earliest Jet Age songs, with Gorillaz-esque electronic beeps and blips laying the background for percussive noodling and occasional brassy synths, with no words to punctuate the abstract sound.
The idea seems to be that anyone who is not already inundated with their music will be able to enjoy at least a few songs, but will likely run into resistance at some point in the album. In addition to the Earl Sweatshirt verse, there is also an excellent Mac Miller verse and chorus on “Juney Jones”, as by this time he had begun mingling with the circles of Matt, Earl, and the Internet. I would be remised to leave out “Wonderful World”, with two of the best verses by Vince Staples and Domo Genesis in my opinion. The production is consistently Jet Age throughout the album, but it seems that Martians and Vritra were able to set a stage for their guest vocalists in a way that hadn’t been sought out in prior projects.
This project is a great foreshadowing of the jumping off point that was soon to come and the scope of how far things had already progressed. In 2013, Odd Future was in its last year of true relevancy before the members began to embark on their own journeys, and this project seems to reflect it. We see Mike G, Hodgy Beats, Earl Sweatshirt, and Domo Genesis all appear on different parts of this album, but their presences mirror themselves instead of an allegiance to the collective that had dominated alternative hiphop for the past four years.
And indeed, this would be the jumping off point for Matt Martians and Vritra as well. After this album, the two began to focus on their own endeavors. There was no falling out, no custody battles of the music, simply a shift in focus to new avenues for the pair.
Matt Martians began to focus heavily on the Internet, whose second album, Feel Good, began their snowballing into the critical acclaim that their third and fourth albums would reach. The Internet’s success is well-deserved, and the acquisition of three more talented members (Steve, Patrick, and Christopher) helped propel their sound to even further heights and reach a much larger audience than before.
In addition to the success of the Internet, Matt Martians also began to release his solo albums in the spaces between album rollouts. The Drum Chord Theory released in 2017 along with Martians’ first solo music video for “Dent Jusay”, with features from Syd and Steve Lacy as well as production from Tyler, The Creator.
This album is followed by The Last Party in 2019 and Going Normal and Butterfly Don’t Visit Caterpillar in 2021. These are all best described by post-Internet (the band, not the world wide web. I lied that I wasn’t going to reiterate again) sound and are pretty significantly different from the Jet Age projects released almost a decade ago by this point. They are all solid and are worth a listen but did not personally snare me in the way that Jet Age projects did, but to compare them to the former work is simply apples and oranges. While we can still see some familiar traits in the rolling percussion and occasional dissonance or low-fidelity, it’s genuinely nice to see Martians feel comfortable enough to indulge himself in music that is solely his after all these years.
Vritra also was given a chance to work on his own solo projects. His production rate is insane, with a full LP and EP release almost every year since 2012. While his music never reached the mainstream in the same way that The Internet was able to find a place, his work speaks for itself and is worth a listen. My personal favorites are Indra from 2014 (of which I have a signed copy, a treasure of my CD collection) and SONAR from 2020.
Vritra has also taken part in another exemplary duo act with English producer Wilma Archer. The pair have released two incredible albums as Wilma Vritra, and both are well worth the listen. The sound has almost completely transcended the roots of Vritra’s beginnings in Odd Future and The Jet Age of Tomorrow, and this is not a bad thing. Both Martians and Vritra managed to escape being stuck in their respective box and though the avenues of expression are totally different now, they are still in the business of pioneering sound that no one else can lay claim to.
Before I end this, I need to talk about the final Jet Age of Tomorrow album. I hold no ill will towards it or its creators, but to me it simply does not feel “canon”, so to say. In 2017, Martians and Vritra announced a final Jet Age of Tomorrow album, titled God’s Poop or Clouds? I will be the first to admit that it did not scratch the itch I was hoping to have satisfied. There are some great songs on there like the opener, “Summer Is Ending”, but some of the songs just feel like demos from other projects that weren’t finished.
This album was personally a bit of a letdown for me after how much the others had meant to me, but I think it was meant to hit a difficult audience to reach. The Jet Age of Tomorrow was a project that remained outsider to the end, and to create something that was similar to the rest of the other works was simply not in the cards by this point. Martians and Vritra both had moved to entirely different types of music by this point.
Some of the instrumentals are still very nice but a lot of the songs with vocals just feel like scrapped Internet songs or demos that were given more experimental production to see if they could be recycled. In a way it is symbolic. The entire project started mostly by recycling beats offered to the rappers in Odd Future into full length songs, and with God’s Poop or Clouds? it seems like it has gone full circle — instead of offering beats to rappers, these are songs with the members’ projects that they themselves discarded and decided to repurpose as Jet Age music.
While it wasn’t what I was expecting, I imagine in a similar vein to their former projects that there is something for everyone. It will never reach the same heights as their other three projects to me, but I think even without a masterpiece “comeback album” there is still something to be said for having enough love for the defunct project to give it a little bit of finality. Martians has said in interviews that the Jet Age of Tomorrow lives on in his current music, and there is truth to this.
Whether one is a personal fan of the Jet Age of Tomorrow or not, it is important to see how they themselves became a bit of a stepping stone for music. It is impossible to describe how much the internet shifted the landscape of music, both for discoverability of artists and also the methods of making music. The Jet Age of Tomorrow, like any band that spans the decade of the 2010s, is a part of one of the most historic and frenetic cultural shifts in human history. In 2010 we were first learning how to link in the new world of social media, and by 2019 every adult in America has access to a smartphone and instantaneous streaming.
For music, this can also be highlighted by the collapse of genre. The 2000s are characterized in my mind by a dependency on sub-genre, whether it be music or people. Strong subcultures are something we think of with nostalgic fondness because they really don’t seem to exist anymore. The same can be said for music, in a nutshell. Anyone who is presently making music also has access to unprecedented amounts of source material for inspiration. While there will always be innovative acts, it is the children of these innovative acts that are able to combine unlike things that take front and center for the 2010s. While division of genre has almost entirely faded away, it is not something that happened overnight — in fact, it was propelled forwards by acts like Martians and Vritra have contributed to.
When we think of space jazz, hip-hop, and psychedelia, we do not usually think of these three genres blending together effortlessly. Not only did the Jet Age of Tomorrow manage to do that, but it also allowed the projects that spawned after it (primarily the Internet, because of their success and influence) to retain some of these traits. While perhaps never reaching the levels of abstraction provided by a purely artistic passion project in the mainstream, it is impossible to say that these early beginnings did not help shape the upcoming generation’s tastes. For younger teenagers who have discovered The Internet and gotten a taste of that incredible love for music that is demonstrated by its creators, they are only one link removed from branching out and exploring the origins of the ensemble.
With this, we will eventually see an artist or even an entirely new genre that spawns from this generation and cites them as their influences, much like the influences that artists like Matt Martians and Vritra were able to carry forward in their legacy. Music rarely, if ever, occurs in a bubble. In the same way that the 2010s changed music with the advent of the internet, we are sure to see an entirely new and unpredictable future unfold in the next 10 years as well. I, for one, am quite excited to see what happens next. And I hope that while the new generation rolls out a sound we’ve never heard before, we are also able to appreciate projects like the Jet Age of Tomorrow that provided the bridge before it.
BONUS: If you like the Internet and haven’t heard the bonus songs from their first album, you should give them a listen. They were originally meant to be packaged as a part of the physical release, but due to issues including them they were simply released by Syd and Matt after the album released. They are all good, but “Lonely Notes” with Coco O. from Quadron may be my favorite Internet track of all.