NEW RELEASE: Matthew Devil - (Un)valiant
This Friday, Matthew Devil is releasing their new album (Un)valiant. It’s an extraordinary piece of music that rewards close attention, so Gem Milsom has compiled some notes to help newcomers to Matt’s work appreciate the concepts this record explores.
Matthew Devil’s history is multivalent; they were a notable, if peripheral, contributor to the peak of vaporwave as TANE IS LOVE, peripheral only because they were clearly interested in pushing the genre beyond its strict aesthetic boundaries (one notable project featured dozens of seconds-long audio logos for fictional companies). This is in stark contrast to their acoustic/songwriter work, where the focus is on dry, intimate vocal recordings and intricate arrangements of heartfelt songs that nevertheless are unafraid to veer into thickets of distortion and drone, akin to the way Mount Eerie or David Thomas Broughton will happily drown delicate thoughts in an ocean of noise, allowing the deeply personal to sink back into the faceless morass.
The role of singer/songwriter is one linked to the art of storytelling, and by creating a synthesis of that idiom with the sensibilities of vaporwave, a genre designed to evoke nostalgia for real and imagined pasts, Matthew Devil has produced a record that feels, incredibly, like time travel.
This emerges as a dominant narrative pretty quickly; the first two tracks are vast soundscapes, towering washes of ambience cascading into icy synth arpeggios. Gradually, we zoom in until we are witnessing tiny ritualistic actions (breathe / breathe / let the air escape your bones). So much of this record feels ritualistic; this is not time-travel by scientific means, but instead a kind of astral projection. Unfamiliar and foreboding walls of sound effortlessly resolve into something comforting and warm, only to retreat back into the haze. Half an hour in to the total runtime, the portal is finally open, and we step through.
Incredibly, we are led not into the past that vaporwave attempts to conjure, that of the hyper-capitalist 1980s, but one centuries previous, a feudal, pre-industrial landscape. The tracks Peel Back Nothing To Reveal Nothing and Auburning lead us into a sonic space of acoustic guitars and gently plucked banjos. Auburning is an album highlight; a sunlight-dappled ballad that feels like a journey through the countryside on a horse-drawn cart on a summer’s day.
It bears mentioning that the vocals throughout the record are almost all vocoded and autotuned in various ways; latterly a technique associated with only the purest sleekest futurism, the past few years have seen an incredible expansion of autotune’s applications take place, and its successful use here in the middle of the album to embellish a near mediaeval sound world speaks to Devil’s mastery of the shifting sonic ground we inhabit in 2020. It creates a vision of the past not viewed from a distance through a historical lens, but immediate and alive, a powerful reminder that these bygone times were lived and experienced in the moment by real people who at the time were on the cutting edge of the present.
After Auburning, the vision fades and we retreat back into the wormhole, moments and events flickering in and out of view on the track Liquid , all things melting and becoming mutable (“Liquid Cacophony […] Liquid Transport […] Liquid Ubereats”). In (Parable Outerlude) the towering edifices we witnessed in Parapets of Doubt now lie in ruins, fractured and barely discernible.
By the time we are returned to the present day in Heaven Bleeds, we have been on a journey that has revealed time to be not a forward march, leaving the past frozen and never to be retouched, but instead a constant moment of all things happening at all times, our bodies only ever able to experience the fractional sliver we call the present.
(Un)valiant takes what vaporwave intends to do and fearlessly crosses genre boundaries to accomplish it on a scale orders of magnitude bigger, both in terms of the temporal regions we are entreated to examine with fond nostalgia, and the specificity with which that nostalgia is generated.
Songwriting is about expanding our collective experience to encompass other perspectives. Many artists use this to shed light on the way we interact with each other, or our surroundings, the ways we as humans spend our time in our day to day lives. (Un)valiant forces us to re-examine our relationship with the nature of time itself.
(Un)valiant is out on Bandcamp and all major streaming services this Friday, August 21st.