Matt Elliott – Howling Songs (11/22/2010)

Soundtack to a suicide.

Matt Elliott’s beginnings in Drum n’ Bass under the guise of [i]The Third Eye Foundation[/i] certainly didn’t hint towards the musical left turn he would take with his album [i]Mess We Made[/i] released under his own name, a starkly acoustic and soul crushing modern folk album that had a multitude of a folk instruments, Matt singing in a dreary, languid tone.  His second album, Drinking Songs–which started the “Songs” trilogy, was about as heavily influenced by the name as it was by the European Folk styles, with long, drunken swaying woven into the instruments, sparse strings and woodwinds droning around Matt’s Guitar, Piano and voice, and making some incredibly sing-along drinking songs.  Really, really sad drinking songs.  While the lyrics of Drinking Songs were made apparent by the name, Failing Songs took more of the folk influence, and centered around the failings of society, and the ills that the poor working class has to endure in the wake of society’s own mishaps–though in true Matt Elliott form, it has more to do with the realizations of a failing society and powerlessness of being caught in it than observing it as an observer.  Matt took more emphasis on production, making each instrument shine, as well as honing his lyrical skills.  This album, Howling Songs, is the third and final in the trilogy.  Guess the subject matter.

To his credit, Matt has managed to maintain a very stark identity with his music, both stylistically and atmospherically, without finding a soft, gin soaked patch of depression (and folk) and burrowing in it.  Each album has found him adapting his music certain themes, from the slurred, drunken choruses of Drinking Songs to the bleak, sombre and sparse tone of Failing Songs, and now to the more sobered up and winded, yet still depressing, Howling Songs. The folk influences in here are very strong (I believe lots of Eastern European, at that), as well as the plodding tone of his style.  He’s not here to pull a Patton.  The essence of consistency that isn’t a lack of imagination or inspiration can work wonders, especially if the changes are more subtle than most.

The pace of the album is planted firmly in “kind of slow,” though with a good portion of the music he’s released under “very slow,” it’s got quite  a kick.  But it’s still pretty slow.  And downbeat.  And sad.

The instruments in the album are gorgeous, and well written. The feelings of folk music (in an academic sense) are captured beautifully, crafting a ‘music of the people’ feel with it’s traditional folk melodies, instruments and lyric content.  Mandolins, Violins, Flamenco guitar and stray woodwinds dance around in sombre melody as Matt Plays guitar, piano and his vocal chords, creating a sort of dark campfire or gathering music.  Mostly acoustic, the album certainly has a very traditional feel to it, but some songs like The Kubler-Ross Model and A Broken Flamenco have some climaxes that emphasize the electric tones, playing with post-rock (as bastardized and loose of a term as it is) distorted crescendos, without it being a focus.  The washes of electric guitar serve to emphasize, and become slightly unsettling in the orchestra of tired and broken instruments.  Matt solo and layered voice gives that old Drinking Songs vibe, without the sing-song quality, again acting more like a sombre gathering of tired workers than people trying to drown their problems.  As opposed to earlier works, however, Matt has made his vocals more clear and precise, enunciating more than usual, almost as a sobered protagonist after the drunk and depressed episodes prior.

There’s a bitter bite in these lyrics.  Though, as with the continuing themes of his albums, Howling Songs feels more in protest and bitter acceptance than pure sorrow–a snort and turned shoulder to the problems of old.   He does have a poetic manner to them, though I’d say those who dislike overtly downtrodden or otherwise blatantly depressing lyrics would probably do well either ignoring them or the album altogether. It’s pretty to the point.  He’s ready to drag you to his own personal hell to have a drink.

The whole album is haze.  And not purple haze.  It’s thick; it’s slow.  Though it’s probably the least offender in these series of it, the album is still aggressively depressing–consummately tired, and everything oozes sadness and bitterness.  The smoky atmosphere, traditional melodies, swaying, haunting vocals and the bitter, forsaken lyrics (LIKE EVANESCENCE) create a truly depressing, convincing atmosphere that is instrumentally interesting and layered as well as a memorable tune.

As the final installment in the series, as well as Matt’s fourth solo album, he’s come a long way in terms of writing, composing and creating the atmosphere the albums do–and the original albums were fantastic.  He’s managed to clean up, shape up, and stand up, with each song being memorable, full of dark melodies, folky instruments, hazy choirs and bleak poetry–he’s in top form, and it shows with the all the songs and lyrics on the album.  Once again, you’re hard pressed to find a more sad series of albums (I recommend all of them), so don’t look for anything else.  It’s sad; it’s dark; it’s depressing; but it’s convincing.

If you’re craving some traditional sounds, or some dark sounding lyrics, you have no reason not to grab it.   Just don’t do it on your down week or with alcohol.

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4 Responses to Matt Elliott – Howling Songs (11/22/2010)

  1. Now this sounds delightfully perfect for certain moods.

    Am most certainly exploring this.

  2. fuckyournames says:

    All of his albums released under his own name, The Mess We Maid, Drinking Songs, Failing Songs, and this one, Howling Songs, are worth listening to. So delicious, and probably right up your alley.

  3. QuestionableScum says:

    Checked this record out, and I absolutely loved it. Thanks for the recommendation.

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