There are few tasks more daunting in the world of music than creating an album that reflects a wide array of influences, without itself sounding like a disjointed mess. While we applaud bands for citing muses that cover the spectrum of musical experience, more often than not any attempt to coalesce that experience into a cohesive goal falls flat.
Which is why Georgia Gothic, the 3rd album from Atlanta-based Mattieli, is such a revelation.
The album was born from that most anodyne of musical cliches – singer Mattiel Brown and producer/instrumentalist Jonah Swilley holed up in a secluded cabin to chase the next inspiration. While the two would previously write separately and come together to record, this process predictably creates a far more cohesive overall record, one that wears it’s influences on its sleeve while expanding and evolving them.
Georgia Gothic opens with lead single “Jeff Goldblum,” an icy, electronic jam that details a run-in with a doppelganger of the actor in his youth. As love songs go, it is notably absent in payoff, instead suggesting a dalliance without ever detailing, as the song asks, “what else was I supposed to do?” Brown’s clever wordplay describes her beau in a way that feels evocative without in fact telling us much of anything specific – “I didn’t take the time to listen to his name/So just for now, I’ll call him Ichabod Crane/My Sleepy Hollow baby standing in the rain.”
Just when a listener who is new to the band feels like they have a handle on the band – modern indie electronica pop – the album begins a series of zigs and zags that somehow rarely feel unnecessarily schizophrenic. “On the Run,” which belongs on the soundtrack of a movie about a loner-type crossing an infinite, unforgiving desert, evokes everyone from Cash to Springsteen in its world-weary knowing. “What I keep on my back weighs a ton and a half, and I’m always on the run,” Brown sings with a perfect level of seen-it-all.
Elsewhere, “Blood in the Yolk” and “Cultural Criminal,” the emotional tentpoles at the center of the record, could easily be the best Big Thief songs that Big Thief never deigned to write. Adrianne Lenker’s vocal style is an obvious touchpoint here, particularly on the gothic “Yolk.” On “You Can Have it All” and the soaring “Lighthouse” (the latter of which would be the feel-good, windows-down indie jam of the summer in a perfect world) Brown evokes The Long Blondes’ Kate Jackson’s knack for a pop vocal hook.
Not every experiment necessarily works –“Subterranean Shut-In Blues” wastes Brown’s impressive vocal range, and “Other Plans” reaches for epic status and instead feels disjointed, breaking the album’s momentum right before it closes strong with the pulsing “Boomerang” and barroom jam “How it Ends” (I’d be remiss to not also mention how impressive it is to call an album closer “How it Ends” and have it come off as appropriate and final rather than hacky).
Despite those few missteps, Georgia Gothic is an impressive whole, and a clear great leap forward for Mattiel. One wonders whether this journey will see them narrowing their focus on subsequent records, or continuing to surprise the listener at every turn with a new take on a style. Either way, I’ll be listening.
Words by Ryan Self