An album for a year

It’s the time of year when everyone gets their lists out and everyone else goes “Oh come on, what about …. And …. and…. ” We’ve all done it. Looked at lists and thought “I don’t know half of these” or “Half of these are shit” or “I swear they’ve made these up” or “But is the Low album that good?” (Answer – yes it is actually).

I’ve made up lists before and I probably will again, but this year I don’t feel like it. I’ve consumed as much music as last year but I don’t feel like it has nourished me as much as it did last year. Maybe that’s me, who knows? Music has gone in and gone out, and there haven’t been that many albums which have stuck around in my mind or my iPod or phone or whatever playback method I have chosen. There have been some, but not many.

But one album has remained constant this year from the moment I heard it. I’ve not removed it from my phone since the Summer, and I’m still listening to it now in December and still finding new corners and ideas and lyrics….

That album is “DejaVu” by Matty.

It’s all Colin Newman’s fault, to be honest. I wouldn’t have discovered the album if Newman hadn’t included it on his Bakers Dozen article in the Quietus in the summer, July 17th to be honest. Newman’s comments mentioning Todd Rundgrun, Emmit Rhodes and other 70s soft rockers piqued my interest and the next day I listened to the album for the first time, and immediately downloaded it. It certainly made an impression, I even remarked on my Twitter feed about one song going full on skronk at the end.

And then I kept listening to it. Not all the time, not obsessively, but every few days I would return to it, listen in full and start to recognise the songs in order, hear lyrics which resonated, and feel like I was knowing the songs more. That hasn’t changed from July to December. I’m still listening to the album every few days. A week certainly hasn’t past where I haven’t listened to it. I’ve probably banged on about it on Twitter to anyone and everyone and all my followers are probably sick of it, in which case this post is a chance to get Matty out of my system once and for all.

So who is Matty? Matty is Matthew Tavares, of Toronto. He is the keyboard player in Badbadnotgood, and I’m not going to pretend I know anything about them because I don’t. It seems that a year or so ago Tavares had some kind of burn out, took time away from the band to create “DejaVu”. There may have been some other things happening in his life at the time, the lyrics indicate some heartbreak and disappointment in relationships. But that’s just my reading. Whatever happened, he channelled his feelings into the album and it shows.

The album opens with “Embarrassed”, a midtempo loping song, already setting up the general parameters within which most of the album will operate. Simple drums and bass (played by other members of Badbadnotgood) anchor the song while washes of synth chords swirl around the listener, and an insistent keyboard melody makes an impression. Matty’s vocal seems to be about social embarrassment – “it’s why I keep the conversations small” – but as the song progresses it becomes clear the “other” voice – the “you” in the lyric – is his own inner voice, the one telling him uncomfortable truthes.

“Verocai” (I have no idea what that means) is the closest here to the Rundgrun / Rhodes 70s soft rock the album was billed as. The melody and chords are all piano based, the tune slipping and sliding with occasional dropped beats (there’s no percussion at all on this song), but as the chorus draws near, more instrumentation comes into view – a synthetic string arrangement which enriches the song immensely. I’m really not sure what the lyrics are trying to say here – harking back to a past before a relationship started maybe – “When things have gone too far there’s always a way to go backwards” – but the heavenly lift of Matty’s falsetto on the chorus, alongside the sudden string arrangement, brings an early album highlight. In a way this reminds me of early Plush, so it’s 70s soft rock third hand in a way. Still lovely though.

“How can he be” is a breezy pop song which owes a hint towards “Hey Ya” (to my ears anyway), maybe it’s the snappily strummed acoustic guitar chords. The words however have a ring of bitterness – he’s seen her with someone else who looks like him and it’s tearing him up, possibly through his own lack – “the flames of love stifled through insecurity”. Two verses and choruses pass by before you even notice and the quiet coda leads nicely into the next song, but this may be the most instant song on the album.

“I’ll gladly place myself below you” is the heart of the album for me. So many contradictions and so much self doubt, it’s almost painful to listen to the words, and yet they are sung so sweetly in such a world weary manner too. The song itself is quiet, clanking sounds like partly working machinery around four repeated chords and minimal drum machine, but there are layers added as the song moves on – marimbas and more. The whole lyric is so heartbreaking, each line adding another shovel on dirt on a relationship which is clearly toxic, nobody is happy, nobody is getting what they need, lines end with a world weary “oh man….”. And in the middle a line so perfect it makes me gasp for breath each time I hear it – “Here in the mystery of what can make me content”. So much to unpack in those ten words, and yet they are followed by the coruscating “I guess the only thing that’s left to change is my intent …But I won’t“. Each line cuts deep. Around two minutes the song builds up, wordless high harmonies, more keyboards and drums finally appear, rolling onwards to a crescendo of painful truth, for everything to drop out after a final chorus, two keyboard parts weave around in the air, and an instrumental coda feels like the calm after the storm. A stunning song.

“Clear” is anything but, except for the music which is pure bliss. In a way, the music is close to yacht rock here – not too fast, a slight swing to the beat, but not to begin with – Matty sings the first verse over a bed of synth chords. He’s in a new relationship but there’s ghosts of the previous relationship hanging over him – “If you’re the one I needed / Why does her memory still creep in?” Yet the music is lovely, lots of wordless high harmonies and the second half has peculiar half sung vocals over the squelchy synths and stumbling drum fills.

“Polished” has a bass drum and hi-hat pulse rushing through it with softly strummed guitars and odd synthetic orchestral instrumentation. The lyrics seem to be about seeing the perfection in someone but there’s a distance here, a reflection, a vision once removed. Once the singing stops a sax of some kind wails away, starting in a melodic manner but getting more and more “out there” and skronky as it progresses, until a dead stop.

“Nothing, yet” is complicated yet simple. The music is uptempo in the verses before moving to half that tempo in the chorus, a bright and breezy little three chord tune, sung so sweetly. Yet the words take in so many aspects, moving through another dimension in death, personal philosophy on life, bitchy statements on other people…. It hurts but is sung so gently, even the work “motherfuckers” slips down easily. And in the middle of the second chorus “I’m too afraid of always bein’ rejected / Or accepted too“. In which case basically he can’t win, can he? Harsh.

“Butter” sees Matty stop looking inward and looking outward to his family. He gives glimpses of his mother, father and brother with small vignettes of their existence but none of them seem satisfied, “How can life be beautiful without it being pitiful?” But the chorus brings it into focus – “Life is always weird and hard” before a plea for love. But “Butter” is one of the loveliest songs here, I hear hints of “You showed me” by The Turtles amongst the bass guitar samples, strange noises clashing and a rich string arrangement, half pizzicato plucking. And it’s so ridiculously catchy too. Another highlight.

And finally the album reaches the title track. It starts with a simple bass drum pulse over which various layers of keyboards bang on one chord, and stay on that chord for nearly two minutes before hovering around to other chords, drum machines join in, piano chords add dissonant tones, yet the movement around the song is minimal… The pulsing gets more insistent even though the chord changes are few and far between, allowing the listener to focus on what different layers are being faded in and out. By four minutes it seems the chords have stabilised into one place and a rattling cheap little drum machine is slowly introduced, and finally at 5:30 it drops to just the cheap drum machine and a bass pulse. And Matty decides to sing, and it feels like he’s worked out his feelings at last.

I was kind to everybody
‘Cause I needed love so badly
That I traded happiness
At my own expense

Slowly layers are added, keyboards add melody here and there before dropping away to a piano playing three melancholy chords as Matty sings

So I guess this is goodbye
To my previous lies
Thanks for all the wasted time
Not that I was regrettin’

Has he found some solace? It’s ambiguous – he doesn’t regret wasting his time, but the music (now richer, repeating those melancholy chords) does not give resolution either, and in the wrong mood can induce tears in me. Don’t know why, maybe it’s the bittersweet nature of it all. Either way, the full eight and a half minutes of “DejaVu” have become my favourite song of the year, played on repeat, added to mixes, mixed in against other songs like “Heads” by Medicine which has a similar pulse and poise.

One other thing about the song… And I may end up sounding like an idiot here…. Have you ever come into a song halfway through a beat or a bar, so the whole rhythm sounds off kilter? Does this happen to other people? To start listening to a song on the third beat of a bar and your brain can’t quite process where the bar is supposed to start and the song takes on a new dimension of wrongness? Just me then. Oh. Anyway, this happens a lot with “DejaVu”, it’s easy to mishear the start of the bar and to be swept along in the song hearing it in the wrong way, and it’s only when the song drops down to drum machine at five minutes that the brain snaps back into the proper rhythm. Amazing when it happens.

So that’s “DejaVu” by Matty. It seems he has returned to Badbadnotgood now and it’s possible the album was a chance to express feelings felt at the time, and once the expression has been made there’s no need for a solo ‘career”. But this is still my favourite album of the year, a one off, a unique event. There’s touches of other music here – I’ve seen mentions for yacht rock and Tame Impala’s modern psychedelia, and Tavares coats his vocals in a double tracked reverb haze, and the music is suitably hazy in places. But this is refreshing, melodic, invigorating and with depths and layers within the music and the words. If Tavares produces no more solo material, I’ll be happy that he produced this one record and made my life better through it.

Well this has been fun, my first Goldfish post in over 18 months. Maybe I should do this more often. I may put together another playlist of my favourite songs of the year. Watch this space.

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