- Layering like a boss
Never heard of Matt Stevens? I’m not surprised, and he probably wouldn’t be either. Hailing from the UK, and born with a loop pedal under his foot (don’t ask how), Matt Stevens has been carving a musical niche for himself ever since he started writing…and I’m not entirely sure when that was. His music leans heavily towards the repetitive ambiance of post-rock, and is quite rewarding to listen to if you’re in to that. He’s released 3 studio albums, 1 live album, and plays quite frequently in the UK.
Matt Stevens’ latest album Relic is an instrumental feast of sonic succulence in the progressive post-rock/trip rock vein. The guitar weaves repetitive, melodic chord progressions into wonderfully rich tapestries of sound, with drums and bass acting as a rhythmic support structure, while keys and other instruments provide some occasional textural seasoning. Overall, the sound has a melancholic, ambient feel similar to Portishead, but with more complex guitar work. At times, I found myself wondering when Beth Gibbons was going to start singing.
There are notable deviations to the minor key ambience, such as the more upbeat and thus aptly-titled track Up and the heavy Batman Beyond-esque riffing of Frost. I seriously thought of Terry McGinnis dropping out of the sky and beating bad guys to a pulp while listening to this song. Shway! Then it shifted gears away from the heavy riffing and completely derailed my fantasy, which left me with very mixed emotions. The mellower moments are fine, but…but…Batman! Sorry, I digress.
Repetitive chord progressions are used to great effect as a sort of mantra, with the effect of drawing the listener in to experience, rather than just listen to, the music. This effect is enhanced by dimming/turning off the lights and perhaps the aid of…incense… Even though the songs aren’t particularly long, the repetition may require patience for some, though for the most part, the patience is rewarded. If you can’t seem to produce the proper patience, I have found that the generally interesting yet repetitive nature of the chord progressions makes for an excellent back drop to experiment with one’s own lead guitar improvisation. It makes great practice and it’s quite fun.
Though I would describe this album as more or less ambient, it creates atmosphere almost solely with guitars rather than keys and sampling, which I found quite unique and refreshing. It reminded me a bit of Victorialand by the Cocteau Twins. Furthermore, rather than relying on guitar drones and spacey chords, ethereal guitar melodies are used to create the atmosphere. And the best part? He plays this stuff live.
Overall, I really enjoyed this album for the well-implemented post-rock/trip rock sensibilities, which admittedly might be a turn off for some. While not exactly groundbreaking, this album didn’t come off as a cliche either, and I would definitely recommend giving it a listen, especially if you are a fan of the genre. He’s selling the digital (FLAC) version of Relic for a “name your prize kind of deal” if you want to check it out, which I strongly recommend.