Matthew Revert Not You

[Kye; 2015]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: singer-songwriter, field recordings, improvisation
Others: Waits, Nordine, Kozelek

“There is a panel of men on the screen wearing brasiers made of bacon. Grease drips down their chests and one of the men is clearly fighting tears. They are talking about an actress I’ve never heard of. Evidence of an infidelity has come to light…”

Quietly hailed as the first singer-songwriter to feature on Graham Lambkin’s Kye imprint, Matthew Revert dismantles the image of what we’ve come to expect from contemporary artists who might fall within that particular bracket. A repercussion of its tender, intimate approach, Not You has had me thinking about albums within that sphere and our collective responses to them (Benji and Carrie & Lowell, for instance, in spite of how differently they might be compared). But what is it we seek or respond to within the songwriting that makes this form of expression seem so deeply intense, dull, or even indulgent? Whereas sincerity was deemed to be one of the characteristics that made Benji such a hard-hitting album, it’s often Sufjan Stevens’s instrumentation, along with his vocal arrangements, that make his output so affecting. On Revert’s debut, he convolutes all expectation as to what that may otherwise entail, and he does so in a way that’s both fascinating and prickly to observe.

For all of its matted humor, gritted teeth, and sweaty discomfort, Not You is one of the most honest and personal albums that might ever fall within the vastly expanding singer-songwriter void. Narrated in Revert’s rugged, Australian tones, the Melbourne-based artist, designer, and novelist (he just published his fourth book) opens up an acoustic universe of the mundane and the fantastical through an inventive assortment of non-instrumentation. It’s at once comforting and difficult, intriguing and loathsome; but as the schadenfreude melts away into compassion, one starts to appreciate the resourceful display and tragicomic overtones that allow for such a distinctive release.

Most striking of all is Revert’s minimal instrumentation combined with narrations that constantly surprise and perplex. Like Stevens, he uses his instruments to incite pressure within his words. But where we could expect a flurry of horns or a choral crowning in the case of the former, Revert will stretch wire, randomly clap his hands, or breathe heavily over his own script — it’s a shocking and potentially disruptive technique, yet it tends to have an equally powerful effect. Revert creates musical textures through ruffling paper, tearing fabric, and sliding guitar strings, complementing the absurdity of his words. “I’ll ask her what she wants for dinner, that will trigger a response likely to include her whereabouts and estimated time of arrival” he mutters on “Nobody Sends A Casual Message On The Hour” — it’s just as romantic as Stevens’s “To Be Alone With You,” for example, but it comes with a devastatingly sinister air and scuffed, lo-fi aesthetic that makes it feel as though he is personally asking for his listeners’ approval.

The muffled feedback Revert allows to writhe about each track also adds a frightening layer of depth to the recording — it sounds like he could be speaking from a prison cell. But as he calmly stumbles around his tales of social displacement, sex, and anxiety, it’s as though he’s permitting access to a private collection of letters addressed solely to their sender. On “Remedy,” he leaves himself a voicemail. Static bleeds into the mix, as he pants down the phone and records a message about removing cartridges, barbers, and frames; “18 hammers hitting one nail of unwanted sound,” he poses midway through what could be a set of instructions. It doesn’t have to make any sense, at least not when the process sounds so compelling as a consequence of its incongruity.

And perhaps it’s that overarching lack of direction that allows the artist to appear in such a genuine light. On Benji, Kozelek’s sincerity was cradled in his ability to tell stories and that had us hanging on to his every word. Reviewers spoke about how the record invoked a tear or two, and for this writer, it was “Jim Wise” that proved the most lamentable tale — an unquestionable depiction of passion and the affinity extended between each character; Kozelek, his dad, Wise (his dad’s friend), and his wife. The penultimate track on Not You is called “Daniel,” and it has an equal amount of leverage by how it draws its audience in and bridges any gap in time and space. It’s also incredibly clever: Revert uses silence and momentum to create apprehension in his tale, while repetition works as an anchor that gives the story weight and excitement. Where “Jim Wise” relied on an upbeat melody to counterbalance the sorrow in Kozelek’s tale, Revert measures concern with ridicule, which is what sets him apart in working on the fringes. That’s not to say that one method is better than another, but it illustrates just how wide the definition of singer-songwriter might be and to what dizzying extremes it could be taken to.

As one of the album’s highlights, “Daniel” is brilliantly unpredictable and it acts as a precursor for all else set to unfold. Balanced by Revert’s deadpan voice and rushes of stale breeze, the track delivers a devastating climax (a huge accomplishment when taking into account the silliness of the story line). The approach extends into haphazard experiments of spoken word, loops, acoustic improvisation, and field recordings, while “Prediction” sees Revert repeating the same sentence in a five-minute loop nested in gentle knocks, sporadic crackles, and high frequencies. The appeal here lies in the conviction of his voice, which is heavy and brooding, bringing to mind the likes of Tom Waits’s “9th & Hennepin” or “Circus.”

On the closing track, however, Revert takes all the trust and compassion he might have built throughout the album’s course and utterly destroys it, while still somehow maintaining a feeling of sincerity. “I wanna see you fuck in a garden,” he confesses, “surrounded by… strawberries.” His voice raises on the final syllable in that line, which makes it feel as though he is consoling himself. It’s undoubtedly creepy, and as an observer, you don’t know whether to smile or immediately hit “Stop.” But like the rest of the album, it conjures a stark, emotive response, which is often as unexpected as the lyrical content. Not You is astonishing and displaced, and it’s blissfully aware of its own insecurities, dwelling on each of them with a warm and frivolous smirk.

Links: Matthew Revert - Kye

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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