Talk Less, Say More England Without Rain(Records on Ribs) Buy it from Insound
You know, I wanted to say of this album something like “he squeezes in more ideas than most artists have in a whole career”. But I realised this phrase has become cliché – anyone who’s read a review of fellow idea-squeezers like Tune-Yards, The Chap, or St Vincent in the past few years will recognise how well-worn that sentiment is, and I suppose it goes back to Captain Beefheart and Cardiacs. But isn’t that brilliant? I know that this is ridiculously optimistic, considering the dreadful the state of the charts is at the moment – to steal a joke from yet another clever pop innovator Max Tundra, there’s an awful lot of “on-kilter” music about these days! – but I want to take a moment to celebrate the fact that there’s enough alternative music around at the moment to enable this cliché.
Talk Less, Say More (Matthew Jennings) has been making genre-defying, inventive pop from his bedroom for years now, and never before has he honed in on the pop aesthetic so directly as on England Without Rain. Yet of course the phrase “pop” is to be taken with a pinch of salt – what I mean is that Jennings has striven to expand his sonic palette without compromising his knack for creating catchy pop melodies and structures. It seems to be built on an array of synths and keys, and embellished in well, whatever ways possible, fusing acoustic and electronic instrumentation. One might not expect an album which makes extensive use of the guzheng (a Chinese plucked instrument) to be so playful.
The tone is set by the teasingly self-conscious postmodernism of I Feel Like Making A Record, at once drawing attention to the absurdities of creating music (“I feel like exaggerating the purpose of this record”) and, simply by the virtue of how tangibly Jennings is enjoying himself, affirming the self-expressive possibilities of the album form. Throughout the record he maintains the oxymoron of his uplifting musical aesthetics versus wryly self-depreciative lyrics, managing to sound at once frustrated and optimistic. Sometimes his vocals sound restrained, lacking confidence, which I suppose reflects the themes of his songs – but his shortcomings as a singer are made up for by his wide array of timbres. For instance, on Glockenspiel, he sings “Matthew do you deserve / Just a little piece of luck? / Yeah do you fffff…”, stretching out the fricative into a sheet of noise, before launching into a remarkable dual-guitar and glock solo.
Jennings’ lyrics are at once poetic and distanced; across the album, he ruminates on the strangeness of memory (Sky Over Everything), exhibits shameless Romanticism (“Take me deep into your Sicilian sleep”, on Black Eyes), and closes with a clinical dissection of the science of human attraction (“Do our immune systems align? / Sometimes we twist apart, sometimes we intertwine”, on Double Helixxx). It’s an odd combination of styles, but it mirrors his paradoxically methodical and expressive approach to songwriting. Moreover, it strikes me that there isn’t a weak track on the album – each has a distinct theme which fits into a cohesive yet reinventive whole.
England Without Rain is a bold statement from a musician so underappreciated it’s frankly quite silly, especially since this is released under a creative commons license by the generous folks at Records on Ribs. The least you can do, especially if you tend towards cynicism towards the state of independent music, is download this and find a myriad of reasons to rejoice for alternative pop.23 March, 2012 - 09:10 — Stephen Wragg