Folk music gets a bad rap these days. The stereotype of long-haired hippies singing about nature and peace has become stone-cold truth for many people. Unfortunately this casts aside many of the genre's undercurrents. What of the artists who tried to speak directly to the listener, relating the human experience? What of its political leanings? Have we forgotten them so soon?
Matt Beer hasn't at least not entirely. He and his hallucinations (a name given to his non-existent backing group—he's a one-man band) lean on the pop side of things: upbeat, catchy, sing-a-long repetition at times. But he stands neither in the real world nor in fantasy. He manages to stand between the two, creating gentle, somewhat hazy soundscapes with lyrics that can be raw and real yet delivered with a disarming gentle tone.
“After the orgy” is the song from his release Coming Into Land that will draw the most attention (and really, is it so surprising given the title?). The introspection is Cohen-esque, reflecting on the self-doubt and bleak humor found in life's most intimate and strange moments: “You said 'I feel like my first day of school’ / She said 'You were never that young!'” You might find it hilarious, you might find it pathetic, but if you dig in deep you'll find some small part of it you can relate to (well, maybe not the orgy part, but at least what the characters are feeling).
This is Beer's greatest charm as a songwriter: he delivers tunes as though they're lullabies but doesn't compromise the impact of the stories he wants to tell. The trick is also used in “PR for beginners.” It's a scathing criticism on presentation versus truth but the music is tonally the same as any other track. Sure, there's a few variations throughout the album - some keyboards here, a sax solo there - but it's all a mesmerizing, bright wave of sound, even when the lyrics are at the most downbeat. Note to future song-writers: that is how you surprise an audience.
Despite this, there are a few moments that stand as mysteries. “The magic was black” isn't exactly surreal, but it's so non-specific that you can fill in the blanks of the story with anything you want and likely not disrupt what Beer was going for. It starts with a goodbye and ends with a goodbye after a meeting at a funeral. Anything you put in between won't undo the weight of the narrative. “Sea of beer” is confusing in a way that makes you think critically: are you “manning the lifeboats in a sea of beer” as he sings, or are you the one drowning, as he seems to want to be?
At its best Coming into Land is heavy-hitting without being blunt, and this sneaky approach makes it a long-lasting experience. The cliché moments are few and far between (in my opinion This Afternoon is the only typical “folk” song here), but Beer's willingness to experiment with his writing pays off big time.
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