Matt McDowell wants to be upfront with you on his new album I’m Lichen. The Whidbey Island, Washington based saxophonist is a long-time veteran but feels that his music only now captures a “directness” that he’s always been searching for. This directness is manifested in many ways on I’m Lichen, including the writing process, McDowell’s personal life and the sound of the music itself.
McDowell has an intentional DIY aesthetic on I’m Lichen, saying, “it always feels satisfying to hear a record where the humanity comes through, whether that's through honest mistakes that happen to be interesting or minimalism in production.” The rawness of the recordings leaves room for the story McDowell tells to shine through. Its meaning isn’t hiding behind too many effects or tricks. The lo-fi production works beautifully on the closing track “Closer.” A guitar plucks away, not hitting every note perfectly, as saxophones wail in the distance. The song is chillingly bare, as if it’s being performed right in front of you.
I’m Lichen is autobiographical. The songs capture moments from childhood up to last year, marked by the passing of McDowell’s father. There are slice-of-life moments throughout the track list, like the opener “When the Summer Comes.” Its booming saxophone gives the song an apprehension, but generally, the music feels hopeful. It's like a kid looking forward to the trouble they’ll get into over summer break. McDowell's Bandcamp page also features track notes for I’m Lichen, giving listeners an even more candid look at his life and music.
A life lived is full of uncertainty and often as disheartening as it is fulfilling. The mix of genres on the album mirrors this chaos. One moment it’s the jazzy “My Two Brothers,” the next it’s the psych-funk gem “Basho Dreams.” McDowell also isn’t afraid to rock out, like on the aptly named “Saxophones and Rock and Roll.” The song is forceful, driven by a punchy drum beat and a heavy dose of electric guitar. The variety displayed on I’m Lichen is a perfect complement to its message.
A lichen is a plant that forms a symbiotic relationship with whatever it grows on. Matt McDowell is able to create this same relationship through I’m Lichen. It is not just an enjoyable album to listen to, it’s an interactive experience and powerfully honest. McDowell is looking directly at you through his music, and you have no other choice but to see him within it.
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