What I Listened To When I Listened To Music This Week… Matthew E White – Big Inner

Lots of good stuff has been passing my ears this week. The chance to listen to the daytime shows on 6Music is one I have been relishing and through Lauren Laverne and the RadMac guys I’ve been lucky enough to hear a lot of very exciting new music.

With new releases from the likes of Midlake, Arcade Fire and yes, One Direction all coming soon it’s shaping up to be a very good end to what’s already been a year of stunning releases.

This weeks most listened is a record from this year I’d been meaning to check out for a long time, and it’s threatening to creep up and try and grab a place as one of my records of the year (contrary to rumours The National aren’t bound to win anyway, but they’ve certainly made a good case) so without further ado here’s my review of this weeks WILTWILTMTW (catchy acronym no?)

MATTHEW E WHITE – BIG INNER

Matthew is the founder of Spacebomb Records and when this record first came out it was indeed the first release on Spacebomb Records. Spacebomb is fascinating label that revolves around their wonderful concept of running a label like a village, they have a house band and are essentially a collective of brilliantly talented people who believe in coming together to put out the best records possible. Yes without a doubt there’s a touch of the hippy spirit flowing through them, but also a touch of one of the most celebrated labels of all time Motown Records! In debut album Big Inner Matthew has certainly captured more than a thing or two from the spirit of Motown.

The success of his self release meant Mr White has now been signed up by Domino Records, a record label so wonderful I even own a t-shirt. Home to the likes of Wild Beasts, Arctic Monkeys and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Domino is widely regarded as one of the most successful indie labels out their. They don’t do much wrong, but a quick look at the bio they’ve put up for Matthew shows even the best make mistakes, it’s dreadful! Luckily one thing they have got correct is that they’ve decided to re-release Big Inner with a collection of new songs, this “Outer Face Edition” is coming out on the 21st of October, which has meant new singles and a whole lot of much deserve airplay coming the way of our man Matthew. However being impatient i’ve picked up the original 7-track album, and what an album it is!

Before I get to anything as crude as talking about the album and not myself, let me tell you another tale of my stunning ability to miss out on things! Like John Murry before him Matthew has been trying his best to get into my head all year. It all started with a stunning review in Uncut (so many good stories do), I filed it away under “must check out” but did little about it. Then came Record Store Day where Matthew was kind enough to come and play on Berwick Street. A day I went to and was stood no more than few feet away from where Matthew was playing, sadly I was stood in the pub having a pint when I should have been out checking out his band in full flow (my reasoning behind this escapes me but I now think it may be one of the worst ideas of my life) Then again he turned up to play End Of The Road and again for one reason or another I didn’t see him there either, and it was only when I bought the EOTR Rough Trade compilation I finally got around to listening to Matthew. His song “Will You Love Me” was one of the stand out moments on the compilation, and after kicking myself really quite hard, I rushed off to purchase a copy of Big Inner (well I actually waited about a month or so but that’s quite rushed by my standards)

Anyway on with the real matter at hand…Big Inner is a stunning record. It has rightly been noted that this album has something of a retro feel to it, certainly in terms of song-writing and arrangement this record wouldn’t be out of place in the 60s. Indeed if he’d been around at the time he’d have fitted beautifully on the bill at Woodstock, though I have my doubt whether the sound systems of the time could cope with such a lush, full sound. In terms of the quality of playing I don’t think anyones made a record this good all year. The production is wonderful and the use of horn sections, string sections, guitar solos and some frankly stunning bass playing are all beautifully balanced for the good of the songs and give the record a wonderful tone and, without wishing to sound like I too am from the 60s, it’s got a stunning groove to it.

Opening track One Of These Days get straight to the matter at hand, in fact it’s such an immediate beginning you kind of feel like you might have skipped a track, but once you’ve got over the shock, this is a classic love song. The vocals are high up in the mix and with a voice this soulful you can see why. There’s hints of Antony Hegarty in there but without the theatrics, in fact the tone here is one of a simply great soul singer. If Bobby Womack claimed to be “the last great soul man” this beardy white guy from Virginia might just beg to differ. For all the obvious love in this song (“you give me joy like a fountain down in my soul”) there’s also a hint of missed opportunities and indeed perhaps some feeling of not being good enough as he admits he wants to “lay next to you, when our glory fades” and the repeated line “one of these days” hints at some repression of his true feelings.

Indeed throughout the album there’s the presence of mixed up emotions. A man very much in love at times, but at the same time he seems to be gripped by feelings of inadequacy and wanting to move on. In second track Big Love he seems to revel  in this. It’s a joyous sounding track, as gospel choir, honky-tonk piano and some very free guitar playing join Matthew as he seems to celebrate “moving on like any man should, moving on like any other man would” and despite declaring himself “the same old shit” this a man enjoying his new found freedom. As Matthew Puts it’s “Big Love, Big Love, I Got To Carry On”. It all comes together to make one of the stand-out tracks on the album and one that should be filling dance floors at soul nights up and down the country if they ever get bored of playing James Brown on repeat.

Will You Love Me is an entirely different mood, it’s got a touch of a Devendra Banhart balladry only without going off into shouting about animals or questionable sexual ethics. It finds Matthew admiring the power of love to push the darkness away, whilst also rallying against the “loneliness that won’t leave me alone” indeed as he promises to “be there ’till the morning light or longer if you need” this is clearly a chap who’s struggling to make up his mind! It’s ultimately to my ears a song of unrequited love and every bit as sad as it is beautiful.

Gone Away is a lament to a lost family member, there’s a touch of Eric Clapton’s finest moment “Tears in Heaven” not just in subject manner but in the beautifully slow guitar playing that accompanies strings and more choral singing as he questions god’s decision to take his loved one away “why are you living in heaven today?” he asks almost unable to accept his loss. The outro is stunning as horns play over the stunning guitar line and as Matthew and the choir sing “He will tear your kingdom down” he sounds almost like he’s warning God what he’s got himself in for. It’s a poignant moment

He’s back on familiar ground with Steady Pace, a track about the joys of taking your time at the start of a relationship. After all the trouble he seems to be having elsewhere on this album, I can’t help but be worried she might just be being polite as he reminds her “as long as we’re moving at a steady pace baby, we can take our time”. It’s probably the albums catchiest chorus, and the energetic horns and lively piano line create a wonderful energy before giving way to a more sinister sounding outro with swirling trumpets and a more frenetic piano playing style all marched along by the bass-notes of the horn section.

Hot Toddies sounds like a christmas song, but the best christmas song ever. It couldn’t be more wintery if it tried, but if you don’t want to curl up by a fire in a log cabin after hearing it you have no soul at all! There’s a touch of Josh Pearson in the vocal delivery and the lyrics, which include the brilliant “the lord made lemons, the lord made me, but the devil and his demons gave us sweet whisky” for all my atheism I am a sucker for a good song about the devil and god raging inside of someone, oh and a drinking song, I love any drinking song! It all gives way to the bizarrely brilliant outro where a bass clarinet (warning readers, it is pretty free-form and jazzy!) wails over bass and organ as Matthew repeats “who likes winter, we like winter” like a pied piper leading us into a ice palace full of whisky and demons. Frankly I think we’ll all be happy there, so who’s coming with me?!

Closing track Brazos, kicks off all triumphant horns and gospel choirs bringing to mind Nick Cave & The Badseeds. It see’s White questioning his faith (“sunk like a stone because he wasn’t a believer, and i’m not sure baby that I am either”) as it progresses though we find him asking for Jesus’ help, in fact the whole thing sounds a bit like someone discovering Jesus on his death bed “won’t you hear the angels sing?” he says before the whole thing collapses in on itself and a driving bass rhythm takes it’s place and we get the full on gospel treatment (“jesus christ is our lord, jesus christ he is your friend”) it’s far more religious than I’d normally go for but when it’s this catchy it’s hard not to want to jump out your seat and dance the night away.

Ultimately the great success of this record is to take a sound we’ve all heard before, indeed more often than not we hear done really badly. This sort of groove-laden soul music is often seen as quite middle aged and indeed a touch middle of the road. White’s secret is that he sounds like someone not just trying to sound like a soul-man but someone who really gets what was great about it the first time around. He’s clearly a fan but he’s also a talent, and whilst his influences are clear he manages to sound fresh and most importantly he sounds like himself. Matthew E.White take a bow you’ve made a stunningly good debut album!

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