Don’t judge a book by its cover. When adapting the proverb a bit can one say, don’t judge the music by its album artwork? Maybe no straightforward answer can be given to this thought. However, when I first gazed at the cover of The Broken Man by Matt Elliott I began to wonder about this. Only in the bright daylight you can barely make out three black skeletal figures against a dark brown background. My feeling was confirmed after hearing the first track ‘Oh how we fell’. Starting off with some extensive guitar play and the gloomy sounds of church bells that is followed by a soft and tormented voice. During the lengthy opening Matt Elliott immediately takes you the depths of dreariness. After this first and relatively short introduction I can already conclude that this album isn’t for the masses. Indeed, the connoisseurs among us will enjoy this latest release of Elliott. As for me, The Broken Man significantly influenced my musical year in a positive way and is arguably the best album I heard in the past few years.
The Bristol (UK) based Matt Elliott recorded his first album in the mid-nineties with the band Linda’s Strange Vacation. With this band he released several albums in the years that followed. Furthermore he also worked as a remixer for Amp, Yann Tiersen and Mogwai under his guise The Third Eye Foundation. Elliott substantively shifted his style to tranquil and dim soundscapes when he released The Mess We Made (2003) under his own name. Elliot redefined his style once more with his trilogy, Drinking Songs (2004), Howling Songs (2008) and Failing Songs (2009) to what best can be described as dark folk. From these obviously non-concealing titles it is quite clear that Matt Elliott’s lyrics are all about embracing loneliness, death and bitterness. Because of this and small scale of album distribution Matt Elliot remains a niche player who seemingly secretly releases one fascinating album after another. With The Broken Man (2012) that was released on the French Ici d’ailleurs label he continues to explore dark crypts of human misery. Layered tracks such as ‘Please, Please, Please’, ‘How to kill a Rose’ and ‘If Anyone Tells Me ‘It’s Better to Have Loved and Lost Than to Never Have Loved at All’ I Will Stab Them in the Face’ can turn your living room into spooky en merciless environment. The dramatic piano, chilling choirs and melancholic violins may seem eerie but are beautiful and comforting at the same time. The most warmth can be heard in the strumming Southern European guitars and serve as the sparse sunbeams that oppress dark thoughts leaving you with a strange romantic feeling. That is, for a short time only. On ‘Dust Flesh and Bones‘ the sun gradually fades away when Elliot adds haunting soundscapes and lugubriously reminds us how it feels to be alone. Not every track ends with a minor key. Halfway ‘This Is For’ the before mentioned guitars take the upper hand giving it an almost displaced Sicilian atmosphere.
Together with the Drinking Songs Trilogy, The Broken Man will survive the ravages of time making it more graceful and dazzling each time you listen to it. Obviously it goes without saying that The Broken Man is best played when you have some space to yourself, preferably during silent winter nights with a glass of your best Islay. The Broken Man is truly the next piece of art coming from Matt Elliott. That is, only for those who are able to recognize and respect the beauty of desolated darkness. If Elliott’s main aim is to unravel the morbid allure of sadness, I have to conclude that he abundantly succeeded. Some critics compare the music of Elliot with Tindersticks. Although I partly agree, I don’t think this is a fitting comparison. A prospective listener would be wise to understand this dark and enchanting music in a intrinsic way, cutting loose from the usual associations. I do however agree with one phrase. Naturally it comes from Matt Elliott himself, ‘…this is for the pain that’s yet to come’.
Label: Ici d’ailleurs
- Oh How We Fell (11:49)
- Please, Please, Please (2:35)
- Dust, Flesh and Bones (9:17)
- How to Kill a Rose (1:59)
- If Anyone Tells Me “it’s Better to Have Loved and Lost Than to Never Have Loved at All” I Will Stab Them in the Face (13:23)
- This Is For (3:52)
- The Pain That’s Yet to Come (3:41)
Review by Wander Meulemans // VOR-110113