North London guitarist of post-rock band, Fierce and the Dead, Yonks, and solo musician Matt Stevens has garnered a lot of buzz within the music blogging community. It is not hard to understand why either, not when you consider that Matt has built an internet following by way of torrents, forums, live streams, and a variety of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. On top of all of that he runs a record label that carries a roster of similarly inspired acts and through his efforts he has even caught the attention of Alarm Press who went as far as to call him “a poster child for the digital revolution”. With the release of his third solo album, ‘Relic’ he seems to have much of the blogging community talking all over again.
Post-Rock has always been about structure, it is one of the genres more defining elements. Pioneers, Godspeed You! Black Emperor are known as one of the more prominent bands who helped develop the sound post-rock is known for today; the attention to structure and composition over the preferred course-verse-course template of modern rock, the repetitious buildups of timbre, the reverb/delay laden guitars, and the lengthy cinematic songs that build to a crescendo. The concept of post-rock seemed like a great one; it was something like a revolt against the sound that modern rock is identified with but even the non-linear stylings of post-rock have been reduced to a template for other bands to follow. It eventually gets tiring to hear each band’s take on the same sound, the same melancholic twinkly reverberated guitars, the same ‘epic’ build to a crescendo format; like modern rock it would seem as though post-rock has become somewhat of a cliche in music as well. Recently, bands who identify with the sound have begun to move away from the long song structures that have defined the genre, taking the post-rock sound and applying it to a modern rock composition, which to some may seem like a contradiction but one that works out undeniably well nonetheless. Matt Stevens happens to be one of those musicians. However, the music heard on ‘Relic’ is not simply influenced by post-rock but by a multitude of different styles and genres.
Relic is a very acoustic affair when compared to purveyors of the same sound which seems strange for a style of music that relies so heavily on contrasty clean and heavy dynamics. However, ‘Relic’ tends to focus more on Matt’s ability to draw from a variety of influences and styles of playing all the while managing to create something fresh by way of his song writing, dynamic compositions and a unique combination of influences. ‘Relic’ features a collection of sounds and styles with everything from slide guitar, to the motrik-esque drum playing heard on ‘Rusty’, to dabs of psychedelia, and even metal. All of these elements end up coming together to enforce the sound that Matt is able to create utilizing just his guitar. With guest musicians Stuart Marshall of Fierce and the Dead playing drums and Chrissie Caulfield on violin as well as a number of other instruments including bass, glockenspiel, piano, and a mellotron there is a lot to digest here.
The opener, ‘Nightbus’ is easily a stand out track; the way the guitar is allowed to ring out so often, the way the drums carry the track, and the bass that comes through so well; it all comes together to create an intense piece of music. I found myself progressively indulging more and more, especially near the end of the song when the drums and guitar break down into this intricate ticking rhythm reminiscent of a Don Caballero song. On ‘Rusty’ you can hear the masterful Latin style guitar playing that convolutedly weaves between tremolo picking and the delicate violin that lingers in the background. In comparison to the more lengthy epics that post-rock is known for it does well in making use of repetition, constructing a claustrophobic piece of music. ‘Sand (Part 2)’ is a textural piece, full of ambience and tender plucked guitar arrangements. The latter half of the song shows off the Matt Steven’s more progressive side, featuring free form guitar noodling and splashes of psych-induced synth effects; an enjoyable and refreshing track. As far as the production goes this album is top notch. Matts guitar sounds powerful, full and clear, and the drums really pop, cutting through the eclectic mix of instrumentation.
With as many good things I have to say about ‘Relic I can not ignore its setback, as minor as they are. ‘Frost’ is notably the heaviest song on the album; it plays out very much like a metal track would yet it is my least favorite track. A quaking distortion driven riff manages to rip you away from the clean melodic nature that is heard on the rest of the album and as much as I wanted to embrace this swift change to something heavier. The chunky distortion that is used sounds out of place, not in a way where it stands out but in a way where it becomes distracting. This is soon followed by a solo that sounds like it was taken straight out of a Slayer song. The electronic drums on ’20 GOTO 10′ was another element I didn’t care for. I enjoy experimentation and generally accept the incorporation of instruments not typically used within a certain genre but the electronic drums were a huge turn off for me. The static effect used in combination with them gave the track a very cheesy feel. It seems as though more bands (Powder! Go Away, This Will Destroy You) that play this style of music have begun to employ the use of electronic drums in their music and I can see why a band would do this but for me it does little to actually enhance the music as much as it does take away from it. I think I have made it fairly obvious that ‘Relic’ does not have as many problems when compared to the amount of good that can be found here so keep in mind that these complaints are small ones.
In short ‘Relic’ is a monument to every one-man band, every guitarist who has ever owned a loop pedal, and every musician who has recorded a piece of music in their bedroom. It is not simply a rehashing of a familiar sound but almost something completely new entirely, collecting influences from all styles of music and bringing them together in a unified and fairly well constructed album.
Overal Rating: 8.0
Favorite Track: Nightbus