ALEX ALEX’S COLUMN: MATT ELLIOTT – Failing Songs (2007)

Review by: Alex Alex

The modern music industry, a hardest and a cruelest competition, much resembling the modern sports is not, however, openly presented as such. Had it been, then Matt Elliott, an English musician, singer-songwriter, and whatever else those sportsmen in disguise are labeled, could well have been questioned by some music anti-doping agency on the ways he obtains his astonishingly depressing, as well as suspiciously crazy, results.

Music business still masking itself as a creative activity, the sportsmen-artists are allowed any legal technique as long as it’s masked as illegal. Nick Cave used to come to the arena in a black suite and a white shirt, the raven wing color hair being all natural and the stories about his past as a punk or who those guys are – all very strange but absolutely comprehensible narrative. Hell, one could even present the proof of rationality post factum – surely Joy Division had some rights to do what they did – in cinemas and theaters you pay before you see the show but, well, there are many business places where you are supposed to pay after.

So, the anti-doping committee would then proceed with checking the rationale behind the Matt Eliott album “Failing Songs” (which has come immediately after his previous one called “Drinking Songs” on the record label “Ici d’Ailleurs”). Immediately the suspicions would arise. “Drinking Songs”, “Failing Songs” – those titles seem to be almost mirror opposites to, say, “Murder Ballads” or all those freaky titles of the black metal albums – surely there must be some drugs hidden in the sugarcubes? And what the hell does “Ici d’Ailleurs” mean if it doesn’t hint that these songs are not really that suitable for drinking?

But then, surely, “Failing Songs” is a collection of protest songs inspired by “the current political climate in Great Britain” as Wikipedia says? Surely “we’re free to do exactly what we’re told, we’re free to buy what we’re sold” is that type of lyrics which would allow “the times they are a-changing” chorus? Can the album be allowed to participate in the competition then?

Oh, wait there’s another song which starts with “When people ask me I always say/The targeted assassination is the only way”.. The protest seems now to be not that constructive – people can become worried a bit. Ah, wait! It must be a loud aggressive song because, of course, the political climate in Great Britain is that of the Queen being the head of the fascist regime a scientist turning into a fly – and all this will eventually be revealed in the happy-ending kawaii KISS masks kabuki show and the kids leaving the circus happily?

Hell, no. The “Planting Seeds” song is a very sad, very melancholy and there’s not a hint of that shameful positivity of the artistic protest in it. “Assassinate a corporate billionaire or their heirs” does not sound satirically (neither self-satirically) nor punkish – it does not even sound decadent, Lou Reedish or how – it sounds tired. And when the singing is over there’s the music and it’s very calm and it sounds crazy.

So what if the spectre of Communism, haunting Europe – is first and foremost a spectre? What if the spectral nature of it is much more important than the Communist programme the spectre happens to read. After all, The Third Eye Foundation, the previous project of Matt Elliott, does have an album named “Ghost” – of course, it’s very different from “Failing Songs”, purely instrumental, much less listenable but all the craziness is in there. In what sense does the spectre of Communism haunt Europe then? Surely we know what we protest for when but do we know what we protest against? Is our dissatisfaction with the existing conditions, in fact, a dissatisfaction with the existence itself? Are we protesting or are we just crazy? In that sense are we not always Ici d’ailleurs?

Well, anyway, for the anti-doping committee it will be absolutely clear that Mat Elliott shall not be allowed to participate in the competition. Indeed, no one can run so fast that “the future that we had is now the past” – this would mean exceeding the speed of light. No human artist, no matter what the circumstances are, can do that and what kind of formula should one discover to achieve that?

I think this is exactly the question we should ask ousrselves when listening to any of Matt Elliott works.

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MATT ELLIOTT – The Mess We Made (2003)

Review by: Victor Guimarães
Album assigned by: Alex Alex

Labels such as “incredibly sad” or “probably the saddest album ever” were stuck upon The Mess We Made like they’ve been welded. The album was also labeled as an electronic music album by a dark folk guitarist and singer from England. Too many labels, huh? And pointing to the same sad thing. I braced myself. 

“Let it play, already!”  – My mind screamed.

However, when I first listened to the record, I didn’t find it as depressive as it seems. Strange. It was the right moment, the mood was there. After waiting for a while, I opened a beer at a particularly cloudy dawn. 

“Let it play, again!” – I needed to try once more.  And I did. 

Matt Elliott’s oeuvre is an amazing piece of art. Technically, he’s amazing. Complete instrumentals, be it either creative riffs who never get too much repetitive or cohesive melodies whose progression and tempo flows like a cold winter breeze. Yeah, the labels were kinda right. It is, by all means, a completely sad record. It was imagined that way, designed that way, recorded that way. I can picture Mr. Elliott reminiscing at a particularly cloudy british day, lazily strumming his guitar and getting ideas for those melancholic riffs and vocals. Lyrics point to the same place as well, always full of loneliness and regret but, as every sad album should have, there’s the “light at the end of the tunnel” in the track “The Sinking Ship Song”.

Full instrumental tracks, distorted vocals, melancholic lyrics and melodies are the labels I give to The Mess We Made. Strangely, a potential candidate to “the saddest album ever” didn’t made me sad. Instead, I found myself thinking about what inspires Elliott to compose like this, to express himself that way. I checked some of his other works and these moods were there over and over again. Regardless of the themes, his contemplative melancholy seems omnipresent like he is a man with one single intention, to pass these feelings on. After all, art is supposed to make you feel something, right?