Louisville, KY is a lovely town, full of contradictions. The name Kentucky alone conjures images of rolling green hills, the taste of bourbon whisky on the tip of the tongue, and the sound of bluegrass and outlaw country, hanging gently on sweet, humid air. While these sensations are likely to appeal to fans of rustic Americana - those that like to drink out of mason jars and spend their weekends driving to beautiful places in raised pick-up trucks. While all of these things are good, in their own right, they don’t exactly scream artfulness and progressive thinking, which probably says more about how we perceive the American South than any real commentary on the residents of said states (and their music).
As a general, catchall rule of thumb, however, the American Midwest is not known for progressive thinking or appreciation of avant-garde art and culture (trust me, I’m from Chicago). Louisville, on the other hand, is one of those weird pockets of progressive resistance, responsible for much of the most interesting indie rock n’ roll of the past three decades, from the proto-post-rock of Slint to the conceptual identity hacking of Will Oldham, aka Bonnie Prince Billy.
Just adding to the confusion, bands from Louisville seem to have a fascination with the ocean, despite being roughly 1500 miles from either coast, as well as being likely to blast out hardcore punk rock as weird, atonal ritualistic jazz. These contradictions just add to the charm, however. All in all, Louisville, KY is one of those hallowed places where real scenes and musicians can get a foothold and do their own thing, free from advertisers and marketers and trendy scene-hoppers. Pacific Midwest from Andy Matter is just the kind of document that can come about from real scenes, full of actual artists and musicians when left free from interference.
Andy Matter, in keeping with the humble midwestern persona, describes himself as the “Warren Oates of rock n’ roll.” I haven’t seen The Wild Bunch yet (tsk, tsk), but perhaps it’s a commentary of method acting, as filtered through a lens of lo-fi, stripped down, punk-ish rock n’ roll. Perhaps not as a wry meta-commentary as with Will Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billy, but more in the sense of some kernel of identity being identifiable, whether they’re playing a romantic composer or heroin-addled bass player.
Andy Matter must have a complex, layered personality, considering the funky, dissonant jazz-edged guitars, the rolling bass lines and poetic lyrics. Andy Matter owes more than a little sonic similarity to Lou Barlow’s Sebadoh project after departing Dinosaur Jr. with a similar combination of lo-fi recording techniques and genre neglect as layers of noise meet catchy, hooky, hummable melodies, like the addictive tags of “Alive For Days.”
Pacific Midwest was recorded over the span of four years with money cobbled together working day jobs. This is a sure sign of dedication, the mark of a labor of love, which is the number one most significant factor in what makes a great record, in my opinion.
And Pacific Midwest, after much deliberation, IS a great record. It’s got a big, warm, red beating heart, without going over the top, beating you about the head with its emotions (which is something I’ve always loved about the Midwest). Andy Matter’s razor sharp songwriting instincts beautifully temper the noisy elements of Pacific Midwest, stopping this from just being another noise blast in your face (which we also love, but have to be in the mood for.) Instead, Matter’s music is both sour and sweet - energetic and driving -without resorting to violence or aggression. His music sounds galaxies better than many albums recorded for ten times the budget.
Like Warren Oates, or Gary Oldman, or vintage Brando, there is a heat and a passion that comes through, whether he’s playing sweet, soulful pop rock or raging guitar rock.
Pacific Midwest will make you want to run out and buy a 4-track, and maybe move to a landlocked state, so you have something to dream and strive for.
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