Ironically, the months of May and June can be some of the gloomiest and coldest of the year in coastal southern California. Fog and clouds will often roll in from the ocean in the morning, bringing with them the weight of moisture and sadness. Somehow, it seems like nature had predicted the arrival of my Matt Elliott CD; it arrived on Friday, when the skies were clouding up and the temperature was dropping.
I mention this because such an environment is perhaps the only appropriate one for this CD, a melancholy, cold, and haunting work behind the same man that produced dark electronica under the Third Eye Foundation moniker.
The CD opens with “Let Us Break,” a song at first seemingly devoid of any real instrumentation. It begins with indecipherable, pitch-bent vocals, swimming out of nowhere with bubbles of off-key piano. After about a minute, traces of a melody begin to develop, and female vocals come in to substitute for the ones that were once there. It builds with strings and brass instrumentation, which winds down for the next four minutes to just a simple chiming melody. It’s perhaps one of the odder songs I’ve heard in my lifetime, and certainly one of the more difficult and shapeless ones on the disc.
“Also Ran,” the second track, continues with the filtered and eerie vocals, but this time they are uttering something much more distinguishable. What is sung is disturbing and gothic, contrasting with the sad-but-comforting nursery rhyme chimes. The result is either beautiful and lukewarm or scary and disturbing, but whatever it is, it is downright depressing. After 2 minutes, the track transforms with a soft dance beat and more minimal melody.
Things get even darker and more haunting with “The Dog Beneath the Skin.” Elliott painfully sings “Please go away” over several dark piano chords before some harsh guitar, bass, strings and white noise enter at the four minute mark. Things eventually drop off into a low sound that seems to have originated from somewhere beyond the grave. The fourth (and title) track is one of the more conventional songs on the disc, with (yet again) indecipherable vocals backed by piano until a dance beat kicks in and Elliott’s vocals float along with it.
“Cotard’s Syndrome” is a long, pretty instrumental that is perhaps too long at over 8 minutes. But it uses some familiar sounds and is almost comforting in its quietness. However, the maudlin “The Sinking Ship Song” is anything but comforting. The song has the creak and lull of an old wooden ship at sea, and it sounds just like the name implies — a tune that perhaps drunken sailors would sing while sinking closer to their watery graves, complete with a chorus of tortured wailing.
After the short interlude of “End,” the disc ends with “Forty Days.” A cinematic instrumental acoustic piece, it doesn’t sound quite like anything else on the album, but is no less moving or depressing.
Although my descriptions probably don’t really mention it, the 8 songs here are probably some of the most difficult and uninviting music to be found for untrained ears. With all of the bent-out-of-shape vocals and occasionally odd instrumentation, I probably would have deemed it unlistenable if I had picked it up a year ago. But now, I would probably call it one of the better CDs I own and certainly one of the year’s best. It is quite a little oddity — sounding like the soundtrack to a vaudevillian freak show, or a funeral — but what a beautiful oddity it is. I only wish it were cloudy all year.
Written by Richie DeMaria.