Matt Elliot - Howling Songs

Miss Fliss 05/01/2009

Rating: 4/5

The last time electronic pioneer Matt Elliot set foot on his former UK home turf, I overheard one Venn Festival pundit sarkily utter a derisive comment about needing razorblades for Matt's due performance. A more throwaway, idle, misunderstood comment you couldn't make. Matt Elliot veers away from the drag of misery for its own sake. Instead his music portrays soft sadness; sadness that can be beautiful, powerful.

2005's Drinking Songs, the first in this trilogy of his albums, was a great melancholy body of seafaring eulogy - tinged with flavours of Russian/eastern European folk guitars and swelling swathes of choral chanting combining to epic magnitude. This was followed up by 2006's Failing Songs which trod a path that paved the way for what we have here in Howling Songs, far more acoustic guitar and string based, with silent space as a tool.

Writing sad music is like therapy for me, as is howling on stage and wailing. It's a wonderful solace, and I recommend it to anyone to just go and howl. Let it out. It feels much better, says Matt. In fact, there's something hauntingly lovely about the howling on this album as there is in Matt's voice in its gentler moments.

In the case of a couple of songs here, there is a build up into a dramatic tension born of chaos and terror. But, by and large, the songs are subtleties. The way each song segues into another gives Howling Songs the feel that it is intended to be imbibed as one whole sprawling mass, albeit with different stages or acts, like a play. So you have the wilderness yelp of The Howling Song amidst the calm quietude of Song for a Failed Relationship. This latter and best track (which belies its title by concluding with magnificent euphoria) ebbs into final track Bomb the Stock Exchange, which crashes into crescendo after the line: If you'll top yourself anyway / then why not bomb the stock exchange?

For all this album's worldly twist in sound -evocative of Parisian street cafes, unruly Russian vodka joints, the wistful climes of Balkan states - you would not think its author was from the south west of England. The splendour of the music lies in its subtle weavings suddenly giving way to bursts of whip-cracking drama. But overall, the feeling is of introspective sweet sadness, with violins as teetering as tears. It's 3am insomniac melancholic charm; it's a grand, opulent, cinematic affair; it's a drunk meander through neon lit late-night streets record. It's an album that interacts with your own mood, but cannot fail to draw you into its beauty shadowed in sadness.

Added to all this ambience, Howling Songs' artwork is the most intricately detailed and awe-striking drawn effort I've seen accompany an album in years (or at least since Matt's last album, anyway), steeped as it is in eastern European majesty.

With the weather providing such a shocking freeze and snow abundant, Howling Songs too transports you to Russia with the perfect soundtrack.

Matt Elliot Myspace