Friday, April 13, 2012

Matt Elliott, "The Broken Man"; Spiritualized, "Sweet Heart Sweet Light"

Matt Elliott has an incredible talent for making time stand still with the brooding Eastern European folk epics on his solo albums, but never more so than on his newest, "The Broken Man".  He's never been so direct with this style of music either -- it's mostly just guitar and voice, with strings and piano making their occasional appearances.  There are no near silent bits or ambient interludes to fill out these tracks, although it wouldn't be a Matt Elliott album without the requisite ghostly wailing going on in the background.  But the background layering, when it appears, never overwhelms these tracks.  His voice has never been so upfront, or so filled with hopelessness and sadness, and his guitar playing has never been this intricate and alluring.  The fifth track offers the best window into the droning melancholy that made the Third Eye Foundation albums so essential, but even here the ghostly wailing takes a back seat to a solemn piano melody that wouldn't sound out of place soundtracking a biopic about a disturbed classical music genius.    

BTW, that fifth track is titled "If Anyone Tells Me 'It's Better To Have Loved and Lost Than Never to Have Loved at All', I Will Stab Them In the Face".  As if you needed another reason why this album is so great.


I heard most of the songs on the new Spiritualized album when I was overdosing on their music this past January.  They had premiered most of them during live shows and it quickly became clear to me that the new album was going to be something spectacular.  

"Sweet Heart Sweet Light" is released next week, and it doesn't disappoint.  For the time being it can be streamed via NPR (try here).  Like with Matt Elliott, Jason has usually been shy about putting his voice upfront as the star of his music.  He'd feature himself more prominently at the start of a song and then quickly hide himself behind a wall of feedback or a choir or something.  That's been gradually changing over the past few years, with a thread that runs through the amazing Acoustic Mainline shows and "Songs in A&E".  However, "Songs in A&E" stripped away nearly all of SPZ's jammy, improvisational tendencies.  Suddenly, SPZ were just another solo project by an increasingly ordinary-sounding confessional singer-songwriter.  Jason had forgotten how to jam it out, he'd forgotten what it was like to play with a band.  Of course this was no fault of his own -- he'd spent months in a hospital ward recovering from a disease that nearly killed him.  The music was still good but it finally feels like SPZ are back doing the things they're best at doing.  

I listen to the album and it makes perfect sense to hear that it was inspired by rehearsing and playing the "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space" shows in '10.  This is what the follow up to "Let It Come Down" could have been -- the spaced-out gospel and weepy balladry of "LICD" combined with the VU-inspired drone rock and semi-improvisational feedback squalls of "LAGWAFIS".  

I'd been worried about the long term future of this band over the past couple of years, but "Sweet Heart Sweet Light" is a major return to form for Spiritualized.  

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