Matthew Heller grew up on a small farm in Portland, Oregon. He started writing songs on piano at age ten, and has traveled across the country playing at rallies, protests, cafes and bars. Matthew’s self-titled album is about as emotionally intense as it gets. There’s a venom that lines the music and lyrics, and everything is almost masochistically brutal and occasionally just nasty. It’s dirty and raw, and filled with an honesty that music rarely has the guts to even try to transmit.
This is not some angst-ridden whining that typifies what music today offers up for expression. This is a portrait of the brutality that simultaneously tortures and enriches relationships. It’s a soundtrack to your pain, and it aggressively forces you to confront yourself.
I read somewhere that Matthew Heller was a folksinger, so I was expecting something like James Taylor’s “How Sweet It Is”. On the contrary this album is torturous, loud and passionate, from Matthew’s fervent vocals and swaggering, cocky lyrics, to the flustering guitar, piano, bass and drums combo. Sure there are ‘sweeter’ melodic interludes like “Girl Into A Rose,” “Every Note” and “If I Could,” which really is a standout track transcending genre boxing.
Matthew Heller is one of those artists that takes some getting used to. The music is so unlike most of the other stuff that finds its way into the mainstream. I think Matthew deliberately ignores the traits that make for super-stardom like catchy hooks, simple chord progressions over elementary 4/4 beats, and ‘inoffensive’ instrumentation. Instead he goes straight for the throat with aggressive sounds.
I reckon the key thing that makes Matthew Heller so unique and compelling is his ‘dirty’ shuffling arrangements. The bass often flies around wherever it pleases along with the guitars, while the keyboards compensate by sticking tight and driving the rhythm together with the drums. However the keyboards don’t just stick to the rhythms, they embrace them, often with repetitive but piercing hooks that leave an ache in your heart. Matthew’s penetrating voice, which is like a rusty old knife, does the rest.
The album stands tall, exemplifying brilliant songwriting, with passionately sung, often disturbing lyrics, and a musical layout which successfully blends gritty rock with intensely heartfelt Americana roots. Each of the eight tracks play into the full range of Heller’s demons and social statements. All are executed perfectly, some seriously, some tongue-in-cheek, urging our own confrontation with the monster in our heads and hearts.
Without a doubt, Matthew Heller’s self-titled album, is a tapestry of raw emotional outpouring. Feelings of antagonism, bitterness, distress and hope. All against a ragged musical backdrop that is both gripping and fiercely compelling. This is not the kind of soggy emotional record that you will cry to, but one that may make you feel anger, heartache, guilt and even exhilaration.
Listen to this in one flat session, while gritting your teeth. This powerful, provoking album will take your breath away.
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