08 September 2010

CD REVIEW: Matt Stevens - Ghost (2010, private release)

Matt Stevens is a North London guitarist/composer, crafting instrumental tracks based around live looping to create a bigger, fuller sound than he might achieve just using a single guitar. Looping, of course, is something that is in wide use by a large number of musicians, but my experience with looping in general finds it used in a far more ambient, soundscape type manner.

Matt’s different, as even a single listen to Ghost will attest.

Ghost is Stevens’ second album, and its 10 tracks stretch out over 42 minutes. You can’t say that it’s an album that overstays its welcome…Stevens seems content to craft tight, carefully composed piece that state their intention, achieve said, and then exit before they become overdone or stale. With tracks ranging from two and a half to six minutes, songs develop quickly but naturally, showing a nice variety of styles and colours.

Album opener ‘Into the Sea’ is built around a lovely and bright melodic line, with percussive accents and chopped chords adding rhythm and direction. Just as quickly as it opens up it fades away, making room for the more expansive ‘Big Sky.’ Big, open chords chime out while Stevens’ solo is slightly angular in some ways, giving way to some synthy sounds that really stand out from the big acoustics of his playing. There’s a lot of dynamics here, with respites of quiet flitting in and out of the huge chords and snake-like guitar leads. The harmony bit about 1:30 in is very nice, with a third solo line playing over top with a totally different melody, the contrast setting things off nicely.

‘Eleven’ shows a lot more restraint, the rhythm plucked out by muted guitar strings, with a very quiet guitar melody and chiming synth bells (I am assuming, at least) mixing with a gorgeously warm electric lead. Brief, almost ephemeral, it’s a pretty little tune that I might want more of if I weren’t afraid that it’s treasures would seem lesser at greater length. ‘Draw’ almost literally blows the dust off things, especially after the quiet ‘Eleven’ preceding it. Kev Feazey unleashes a hella huge bass groove, Stuart Marshall adds in some tight drum and percussive bits, and Stevens chimes away overtop with a heavily processed acoustic guitar, his tone getting a little muddier as he switches to some almost Crimsoid angular solo lines. It’s a very different feel from the other tracks around it, and it does intrigue me enough to make me want to check out The Fierce & The Dead, Stevens’ band with the two other contributors here.

‘Lake’ is another more expansive track, clocking in at 6:17 (it is, in fact, the longest track on the album). Feazy and Marshall appear again, a bit more restrained and mixed lower than they were on ‘Draw,’ with each musician playing much more sparsely. Stevens’ guitar contributions are short musical figures, simple melodies over a nice drum/bass loop groove. When he solos, his playing is careful, no fast bursts of notes. If he had been playing an electric I could hear the solo played legato, notes sliding and fading into each other. ‘Glide’ moves away from the stately restraint exhibited previously, with a jaunty and joyful melody accented with more synth chimes. It’s a very late summer feeling song, all bright skies and kids laughing and playing in the park.

‘Ghost’ takes inspiration from the name, with dark, deep bass notes and layers of guitar lines creating a mystical, mysterious sound. Notes fade, rise and fall, poking out of the wide-open mix and then disappearing into shadow again. It’s followed by the album’s final track, ‘Moondial,’ which continues the slightly darker mood with lots of descending guitar lines and a nice, thick bottom end that doesn’t detract from the crystalline brightness of Stevens’ guitar playing. The shift to a fuller band sound a little more than half way through is a pleasant surprise, adding more variety to things. Tightly written and arranged, it’s a great piece to close out this collection of songs.

Matt Stevens does a lot to disprove the idea that a limited number of instrumental voices results in a limited album. He explores a lot of different styles and areas here on Ghost, and I think this is an album that will appeal to more than just guitar playing aficionados. Matt’s a talented guy, and I’d love to hear more of his stuff, both solo and with his band, in the future.

1. Into The Sea 3:30
2. Big Sky 5:39
3. Eleven 2:35
4. Draw 3:39
5. Burnt Out Car 3:48
6. Lake Man 6:17
7. Glide 3:02
8. 8.19 5:28
9. Ghost 4:33
10. Moondial 4:09

Matt Stevens: guitars, loops
Kev Feazey: Bass & synths (on some tracks)
Stuart Marshall: Drums & percussion (on some tracks)

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